Telemedicine is seen by many as an effective way to increase access for patients in rural areas and decrease the high costs of health care. However, when patients and doctors lose actual face-to-face interaction, will this lead to an increase in medical errors and medical malpractice lawsuits?
According to the American Telemedicine Association, “telemedicine” is defined as, “the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve a patient’s clinical health status.” Telemedicine may involve two-way video, email, or other forms of advanced telecommunication.
Telemedicine can be used for a variety of health care services, including patient monitoring, primary care services, specialist referrals, medical education, and medication monitoring. Telemedicine is even being used to provide emergency contraception for women, where Maine has become the third state to offer webcam consultations with a physician.
Despite the advances, telemedicine still has its limitations. Telemedicine via smartphone does not allow a doctor to make a full physical examination of their patient. They may miss signs of other serious problems that they would be able to notice with their patient being physically in the same room. In some cases, a diagnosis made by webcam may not take into account the holistic nature of medicine.
According to one report on teleophthalmology, remote medicine is a way to provide services to rural areas, where the population may not have access to experienced eye doctors and specialists. The authors of the report evaluated a number of teleophthalmology studies, which reported an increase in quality of patient care and satisfaction, primarily based on increased accessibility and reduced traveling cost and time.
Another study found that telemedicine reduced pediatric medication errors in rural emergency rooms. Researchers at UC Davis evaluated eight rural ER departments, which may not have the same specialized pediatric training or experience compared to emergency departments in larger cities. According to Madan Dharmar, one of the researchers, “We wanted to look at medication errors and see how telemedicine consultations impacted those rates, compared to telephone consultations or no consultations at all.”
However, not everyone is convinced that telemedicine is the best method for treating patients. In places like Arizona, state law requires health insurance companies to cover telemedicine services, but only in rural areas. In urban areas, doctors offering telemedicine risk not getting compensated for their services.
One of the problems with telemedicine involves technological complications. Especially in poor or rural areas, patients may not have advanced computers or webcams, or may suffer from a poor internet connection or limited bandwidth. However, Dr. Kevin Foster, with the Arizona Burn Center says that even with its limitations, it is better than a phone call. “They say a picture is worth a thousand words,” said Foster, “and I do believe that is true when it comes to telemedicine.”
If you or a loved one has been injured as the result of a telemedicine mistake, the Gilman & Bedigian team of experienced attorneys is fully equipped to handle the complex process of bringing a medical malpractice claim. Our staff includes a physician and attorneys with decades of malpractice litigation experience. We will focus on getting you compensation for your injuries, so you can focus on healing and moving forward with your life.
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