The Benefits and Risks with Telehealth

It is no secret that, at its height, the COVID-19 pandemic stripped society of all sense of normalcy. Among all of the changes to our day-to-day life, was the increased use of telehealth services for nonemergency and non-covid related cases. By the end of March 2020, there was a 154% increase in telehealth visits compared to March of 2019.[1] Healthcare professionals moved to the use of platforms like Zoom, Skype, Facebook Messenger video chat, Google Hangout, and FaceTime. While telehealth has its benefits, especially during the pandemic, there are also malpractice risks associated with this form of medical care.

Medical malpractice occurs when a health care professional does not meet the standard of care that is owed to the patient and harm is done to the patient. Harm can include, but is not limited to, disability, loss of income, unusual pain, suffering, hardship, and significant medical bills. Health care professionals must act as a reasonably prudent professional under the same or similar circumstances. These standards are the same even in the practice of telehealth.

Through telehealth, doctors observe the patient and ask detailed questions about symptoms and symptom history. Doctors then tele-triage by formulating a diagnosis, advising on methods of treatment, and even prescribing medication without ever physically examining the patient. The benefits include convenience, with reduced travel, costs, and time, as well as avoiding the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

However, the increased use of telehealth services during the pandemic can increase telehealth malpractice concerns such as misdiagnosis of illness and failure to provide appropriate treatment. Patients typically do not have a medical background and may not be able to accurately describe their symptoms. Physical symptoms such as increased blood pressure and heart or lung abnormalities cannot be observed virtually. The urgency of a condition may not come across without this additional data. A 2016 study found that the risk of missing a major diagnosis is very high when using telehealth.[2]

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted medical care with a sharp increase in telehealth. While there are many benefits of telehealth, improvements are still needed in terms of uniform standards and protocols. Providers should communicate thoroughly, and ask patients detailed questions during calls. Ultimately, in person visits should be recommended for patients with underlying conditions or if there is an uncertain diagnosis.



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