Risks of Malpractice in the Use of Telehealth Services

Telemedicine, or telehealth, is becoming more and more common in our current medical climate, including here in Florida. An online visit is often easier to arrange than an in-person visit and is certainly extremely easy to attend since you don’t have to leave the comfort of your own home. Usually, telemedicine works very well and patients receive excellent care. Unfortunately, as with in-person health care, sometimes things can go wrong. Most of these mistakes are similar to in-person malpractice, but some are unique to virtual healthcare services.

Common types of malpractice or negligence

While the law recognizes that medical providers are human and can make mistakes, the level of precaution and care that is taken can determine whether that mistake rises to the level of negligence or malpractice.

Medical negligence is an avoidable mistake that accidentally causes harm. Medical malpractice is, in a sense, severe negligence, and is a much more serious charge. In malpractice, the healthcare provider knew or should have known better or showed clear incompetence. Examples of negligence or malpractice include:

  • Failure to diagnose, misdiagnosis, or delayed diagnosis
  • Prescribing or administering the incorrect medication or amount of medication, including anesthesia during an operation
  • Filling a properly prescribed medication incorrectly (pharmacy)
  • Not considering contraindications – other existing conditions, other medications being taken, performing surgery when the patient had recently eaten, etc.
  • Avoidable harm from medical procedures
  • Prescribing, using, or administering faulty or incorrect medical devices
  • Post-surgical problems that could have been avoided – infections, complications, injury to other body parts
  • Lack of informed consent or not fully explaining risks or side effects
  • Performing unnecessary procedures or other medical treatments in order to make more money, improve prestige, enhance one’s career, improve hospital numbers, bill insurers for more money, etc.
  • Not following well-defined procedures or protocols
  • Negligence during the delivery of an infant 

Malpractice associated with telehealth

Some of these potential acts of negligence or malpractice can carry over into telehealth and in some ways are enhanced. For instance, the risk of misdiagnosis is higher when the doctor cannot see you in person. In an online appointment, the medical person may be distracted by things in his or her office which would not necessarily occur if you were present.

Often, a telemedicine appointment takes place with a medical provider who does not know you personally. This runs the risk of the provider missing something important on your intake questionnaire, or not reading the questionnaire fully and missing important medical red flags or contraindications for a prescription.

Sometimes these providers are going from one telehealth appointment to another in quick succession. Certainly, doctors in an office go from one patient to another, but when in your presence, your doctor is probably going to give you more attention. In an office, there will also be a few minutes between patients while walking to the next room. Other healthcare providers will probably be in the office, as well, which may give your provider valuable feedback to help diagnose and advise you properly. All this is lost in the online world of telehealth. In their hurry, online medical providers may miss the need to refer you to an in-person doctor or may have a greater risk of making any of the above-mentioned mistakes.

Besides these increased risks of human errors, there are technology risks, as well. While most doctors use a secure web space for medical appointments, some do not. And even secure sites can be hacked, breaching your privacy. In some cases, you may be speaking to a provider who is not licensed in your state, which can have serious legal ramifications.

Proving malpractice

In Florida, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice is two years from the time of the event OR from the time that you discovered (or should have discovered) that your injuries were caused by negligence. For instance, you may have noticed that your back started hurting after you had an operation of some kind. It may be five years before you discover that someone left a medical device in your body that is pressing on a nerve. In this case, the two years begin on the date you discovered the malpractice. 

With any medical malpractice, you need to show that the medical practitioner has been negligent by demonstrating “the 4 D’s”:

  • Duty: The medical provider had the duty to provide care, which is to say that there is an established patient-doctor relationship, not just a casual remark from a medical professional you happen to know
  • Dereliction of that duty: The physician or medical provider failed to follow standards of acceptable medical practice, such that another competent and prudent medical provider would follow
  • Direct or proximate cause: The injury can be directly or closely connected to the medical negligence
  • Damages: There is a clear injury for which patients can seek compensation 

As a native of Florida, I have dedicated my career and my life to helping people all over the state in the area of personal injury, including medical malpractice. I fight for the little guy against the big insurance companies and medical systems who have teams of lawyers to fight for them. You can’t fight them alone. I have a track record of winning, and I can help you receive compensation for your medical malpractice injuries. Call me today at (954) 448-7288, 24/7 for a free consultation to see how I can help you.

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