The term telemedicine refers to the remote delivery of healthcare services. This growing area of medicine allows physicians to use telecommunication and information technology systems to provide care from a distance. Patients can see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment without having to wait for an appointment and they can consult a physician from the comfort of their own home. Hospitals and medical groups can also contract with telemedicine companies to outsource cases and provide round-the-clock staffing for critical work (teleradiology, etc.). But while telemedicine brings many benefits to modern medicine, it also brings new risks and legal considerations.
Consider these key medical malpractice issues for telemedicine providers and groups:
1. Don’t assume that your current malpractice insurance policy is sufficient
Most employed physicians’ malpractice insurance policies are limited in scope & duty. This means that your policy only covers you for claims related to the work that you do for that employer. If the incident that led to a complaint falls outside the scope of your job description or falls within a policy exclusion, you may not have coverage. If you are looking to add telemedicine to your current policy, talk to your malpractice insurance agent to find out if you can add coverage or if you need to secure separate insurance.
2. Seek out a carrier that can accommodate multiple states
Telemedicine patients are often in different locations than the treating physician – a different city, state, or even country. Consider your scope of practice and what areas you plan to provide services in, then work with your malpractice insurance agent to obtain coverage with a company that can accommodate multiple states. Many carriers have national reach or at least large regional territories. Talk to your agent to find the coverage solution that will grow with you as your telemedicine practice expands.
3. Make sure your malpractice policy limits are sufficient
Since telemedicine providers often need coverage for multiple states, it is important to know what malpractice limits are appropriate to carry in each area. Some states have Patient Compensation Funds or other programs that require specific enrollment and their limit structures are slightly different. Talk to a knowledgeable malpractice insurance agent to determine what level of coverage is appropriate to carry in each state.
4. Consider the policy form that is right for you
When considering the type of malpractice insurance coverage that is right for your telemedicine practice, be cognizant of tail insurance or other hidden costs that may affect you. For example, if you are a provider working in 10 states, 1 of which is a higher-risk area, and you decide to stop seeing patients in the higher risk area after a few years, your malpractice insurance carrier may require you to buy tail insurance to close out that exposure. Keep this in mind as you talk to your agent about the states that you want to work in and plan accordingly. Occurrence coverage, although more expensive, is often a good solution for telemedicine policies, since it provides more flexibility (and no tail insurance).
5. Seek out risk management education that is unique to the discipline of telemedicine
Telemedicine presents some unique risks that require education and ongoing compliance. At every step of the virtual healthcare process, adverse events may occur, including diagnostic errors, technical glitches, state-specific legal intricacies, and patient/client privacy and security violations. Most of the malpractice insurance carriers that specialize in telemedicine coverage offer courses to help providers learn how to reduce risk in their practice, but there are excellent outside resources, as well. If you are considering adding telemedicine to your practice or if you are already doing telemedicine, be sure to proactively seek out risk education and utilize the (often free) resources that are available to you.
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