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How Does Telemedicine Affect Medical Malpractice?

The medical industry increasingly uses telemedicine to provide remote care. There are many benefits to using telemedicine, including increased access to care for people in remote or rural areas. However, some types of medical services really benefit from in-person care. When doctors make mistakes over the phone, through emails, or during video chats, it can increase the risk of medical harm. Patients can suffer medical malpractice during telemedicine care. 

If your doctor made an error during a telemedicine service, a medical malpractice lawsuit may allow you to recover compensation for your injuries. After reviewing this page, if you have questions about whether you may have a malpractice case, contact our medical malpractice law firm for answers.

What is Telemedicine?

Telemedicine is health care through remote access technology. Also known as telehealth, remote medical care allows patients and doctors to communicate over the phone or through video conferencing. One of the main benefits of increased telehealth services is that it increases access to care for people in remote areas, individuals with limited transportation options, and those with restricted access to care. Telemedicine may also allow doctors to see more patients and provide more convenient access for busy patients. 

According to the American Telemedicine Association (ATA), telehealth means “a mode of delivering healthcare services through the use of telecommunications technologies, including but not limited to asynchronous and synchronous technology, and remote patient monitoring technology, by a healthcare practitioner to a patient or a practitioner at a different physical location than the healthcare practitioner.”

Telemedicine can involve a simple phone call or advanced technology. Doctors can even use remote robots conducting microsurgeries from across the world. Methods for telehealth include: 

  • Phone calls
  • Live video chats (Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, or FaceTime)
  • Sending images or files through email
  • Text and SMS messages
  • Cloud storage of files for remote access
  • Remote monitoring of medical devices

Does Telemedicine Increase the Risk of Medical Errors?

What happens when patients and doctors lose face-to-face interaction? Proponents of telemedicine promote the benefits of remote care, including cost savings, increased access, and access to specialist care. However, a video chat over the phone still limits a doctor’s ability to make a full physical examination. Telemedicine is supposed to increase access in rural locations but patients in poor or rural areas may still not have the technology or reliable internet connections to be able to take full advantage of telemedicine. 

In one study, researchers evaluated direct-to-consumer (DTC) telemedicine and the risk of medical malpractice injuries. Although the study only evaluated 551 cases of medical malpractice incidents, none of those evaluated involved DTC treatment. However, doctors may be more likely to use DTC for less risky medical treatments. Telemedicine can be also categorized based on the level of interaction, as:

  • Synchronous
  • Asynchronous
  • Remote patient monitoring

In synchronous telehealth, patients and providers use real-time interaction and feedback, generally through a phone or online video chat. This remote option is the most similar to traditional patient care, with the doctor and patient able to communicate with questions and answers, in addition to viewing the patient. 

Asynchronous telemedicine is also known as “store and forward.” This type of telemedicine has been commonly used for years, where a health care office or lab collects samples or imaging studies and sends the results to the patient’s doctors. The doctors can then access the information remotely at a later date and return to refer to the records. 

Remote patient monitoring is a useful way to monitor a patient when the patient does not have to sit in a medical office. There are a number of remote monitoring devices to monitor a patient’s health and vital signs, while going about their daily activities. For example, if a patient complains of heart concerns but they do not present when in the doctor’s office, the doctor could use a remote cardiac monitor and evaluate the results when the patient does suffer an incident. 

Increased Telemedicine During Coronavirus/COVID-19 

Telemedicine has continued to grow over the years but the COVID-19 pandemic really sped up the adoption of telemedicine. Patients with coronavirus could spread the virus through contact and through respiratory droplets. For the contagious disease, many medical services were provided through remote services to reduce the risk of spread. This included phone screenings, video chat services, and online care. Now that telemedicine is so widely used, it will likely remain after the pandemic ends. 

As an example, LifeBridge Health, which is one of the largest healthcare systems in Maryland, established their Virtual Hospital shortly before the pandemic. As COVID escalated, the health care system quickly implemented a tele-triage program to help reduce the pressure on the hospital’s emergency departments. The healthcare system continues to use telehealth to triage patients seeking emergency care.

When Are Telemedicine Errors Considered Medical Malpractice?

When a doctor, hospital, or healthcare provider deviates from the standard of care and causes injury to the patient, it can be medical malpractice. Even if it seems like it was an unintentional accident, doctors are supposed to be held to a higher standard of care. This is why it is so important for victims of medical malpractice to pursue their claims because it can help improve care overall and help others avoid unnecessary and avoidable injuries.

When a telemedicine error causes injury or harm to the patient, it may be considered medical malpractice. Telemedicine can be used in about any area of medical care, from initial consultations, nursing advice lines, or interpreting diagnostic tests. Some of the common areas of telemedicine include: 

Radiology Errors

Radiologists specialize in reviewing medical imaging studies to diagnose and treat medical conditions. Radiologists are doctors who have completed a residency program in radiology. Many radiologists also complete a fellowship after residency to specialize in a sub-field of radiology, including:

  • Breast imaging
  • Cardiovascular radiology
  • Chest radiology
  • Emergency radiology
  • Gastrointestinal radiology
  • Genitourinary radiology
  • Head and neck radiology
  • Interventional radiology
  • Nuclear radiology
  • Radiation oncology

Although radiology involves more than just looking at test scans and x-rays, much of the day-to-day practice involves reviewing tests. Imaging tests and diagnostic tests include:

  • X-rays
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Computed tomography (CT) scans
  • Ultrasound
  • Fluoroscopy
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan
  • Mammography
  • Nuclear imaging 

Because radiology involves so much reviewing of medical imaging, it is one of the most commonly performed telemedicine services. A qualified radiologist can obtain and review imaging tests from anywhere in the world with an internet connection. For example, the radiologist who looks at your CT scan could be sitting on a beach in Hawaii even if you went through the scan at a downtown Chicago hospital. 

Ways a radiologist could commit medical malpractice involving telemedicine may include misinterpreting an imaging test. For example, if the radiologist missed the signs of a possible tumor in an imaging scan, it may delay the diagnosis of cancer in a patient. A delayed diagnosis could allow cancer to grow and spread to other parts of the body. This could cause the patient to suffer physical injury, pain, and may lessen their chances of recovery. 

Electric Scanning of Medical Records 

Another increasing problem for telemedicine is the transcription of physical and handwritten medical records to digital formats. Many medical records are recorded and updated electronically. However, some records and notes are still handwritten. Hospitals and medical offices may later try and transcribe the handwritten notes to a digital format, for easier storage and access. Unfortunately, much of the transcription takes place overseas by non-medical professionals. 

Outsourcing recordkeeping and transcriptions can result in transcription errors and medical malpractice. Transcription errors involving miscommunication, mistranslation, or even different writing styles have led to fatal overdoses. For example, incorrectly transcribing a simple medical prescription can result in the wrong: 

  • Dosage
  • Medication
  • Route of administration
  • Frequency

Transcribing bad handwriting from a digital scan to input into an electronic medical record can also cause medical injuries. Patients can suffer medical injuries because of handwriting errors or improper transcription. Unfortunately for many patients, the error is never discovered unless the injury victim takes their claim to court. 

Technology Errors and Medical Injuries

Telemedicine relies heavily on technology. However, all technology is prone to errors, glitches, and connection problems. Technology errors can impair communication between doctors and providers. This includes poor connections during video chats, corrupted files in asynchronous test interpretation, or simply mixing up files for different patients. Tech problems in telehealth can include: 

  • Dropped connections
  • Poor internet connection
  • Unsupported devices
  • Messages going to spam
  • Blocked accounts
  • Corrupted files
  • Sending the wrong patient’s files
  • Hacked accounts

Who is to blame when a technology error occurs? If there is a problem with telehealth care, the doctors may try and avoid liability by blaming the problem on the patient or the service provider. However, doctors and health care providers have a duty to make sure their patient understands the risks and benefits of any procedure, their options, and the doctor’s recommended treatment. 

Doctors Getting Burned Out From Online Care

Many healthcare companies are taking advantage of telehealth to increase the workload on doctors. If a doctor can see a patient in a matter of minutes through an online chat, then the doctor may be assigned dozens of patient visits every hour. Over the course of a workday or workweek, the doctor can get burned out from the constant workload. 

Healthcare companies see care in the terms of money and time. This can lead to unrealistic expectations of how many patients, files, and reviews a provider may be expected to perform over a workday. Medical burnout and overworked doctors can increase the risk of medical errors, which have serious consequences for patients. 

Telemedicine Malpractice in Maryland

Injury victims of telemedicine malpractice have a limited time to file a lawsuit in Maryland. In most cases, medical malpractice claims must be filed within 5 years of the date the injury occurred. However, if the injury is discovered later, the claim must still be filed within 3 years from the date of discovery. The date of discovery includes the day the plaintiff should have reasonably discovered the injury. There may be additional time for injury victims under the age of 18. If you wait too long to file a claim, your claim may be denied. Contact your Baltimore malpractice attorney as soon as possible after a telemedicine error

Telemedicine Malpractice in Chicago

Patients who are injured in a telemedicine accident in Illinois have a limited time to file a medical malpractice case. In most medical malpractice cases, the injury victim has 2 years from the date of the injury to file a lawsuit against the doctor, hospital, or healthcare provider.

Patients may have additional time if their injury was not discovered until a later date. In general, the time limit for the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the victim knows about or reasonably should have known about the injury. However, no claim can be brought more than 4 years from the date the medical error occurred.

Minor children who have suffered an injury caused by telemedicine may have additional time to file a claim. Minor victims under the age of 18 have up to eight years from the date of the injury to file a claim.  

Telemedicine Malpractice in Philadelphia

If you suffered medical malpractice injuries related to telemedicine in Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations puts a time limit on your ability to file a lawsuit. For most medical malpractice claims, the injury victim has up to 7 years from the date of the medical injury to file a claim. 

Questions About Telemedicine and Medical Malpractice? 

Filing a malpractice claim may be the only way to recover compensation for your injuries after a medical error. However, taking a telemedicine error case to court may also help improve care for others and help other families avoid a similar tragedy. 

If you are unsure whether a telemedicine error was the cause of your medical injury, medical malpractice attorneys can answer your questions and guide you through the process. Talk to experienced trial attorneys who can review your case, get an expert’s review, and help you understand your legal options to file a claim after a telehealth injury. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.

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