Can I sue my teledoctor for malpractice?

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the world to connect virtually to conduct business, teach our children, and stay in touch with distant relatives. Due to social distancing measures, many also began seeing their physicians in a new way – on their smartphones and laptops. Telemedicine provided necessary access to medical help and advice during the pandemic. Its widespread acceptance also made accessing health care remotely more mainstream. This can be a lifeline to people in rural communities who may not have access to physician offices and medical centers. However, it also opens the door for higher risks. If a doctor can’t see a patient in person, can they see the full picture of a person’s health? What recourse do patients have if something is missed or goes wrong?

sick woman in a telemedicine appointment

In a more traditional medical setting, patients have legal options to recover damages when health care providers cause harm. But what about in telemedicine? Can someone sue a telemedicine doctor for malpractice? That’s a question the personal injury lawyers at Allen & Allen are hearing more frequently. With a history spanning over a century, Allen & Allen embraces its duty to clients, firm members, and the community. Our legal practice has grown throughout the decades to serve the ever-changing legal needs of the modern age. We are rooted in integrity, respect, compassion, and trust since 1910, and these values define us. Beyond legal representation, Allen & Allen commits to making your fight our own, ensuring equitable treatment from insurance companies, and securing justice. Uttering “I am an Allen” signifies our promise.

How popular is telemedicine?

Telemedicine, which is a term describing live remote visits with a doctor or nurse practitioner, is a convenient and cost-effective way for patients to access their clinicians. The pandemic sparked an unprecedented frequency of telemedicine visits, and that trend continues even as the world returns to “normal.” Virtual health care also allows patients in rural areas or those without transportation to seek care. Telemedicine allows doctors to see their patients more frequently, which could improve management of chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension.

Are there risks to having virtual doctor appointments?

The rise of telemedicine does come with some unavoidable risks. In a traditional visit to the doctor’s office, the patient is subject to a physical examination in which the clinician has the opportunity to observe and touch parts of the body, to feel for abnormalities, and to test the patient’s motor functions and reflexes. An in-office appointment also gives the clinician a chance to collect the patient’s vital signs: blood pressure, pulse rate, temperature, and weight. These physical examinations are crucial to accurately detecting and treating diseases. The exams may also assist in determining whether a prescribed medication should be adjusted or discontinued, or whether a patient should be referred to a specialist.

teledoctor waving at a computer screen

So, what happens when the examination is virtual? The remote exam’s inherent limitations inevitably create the opportunity for a missed diagnosis or the late detection of a disease. When a physician sees a patient virtually, misdiagnoses them, and that misdiagnosis leads to an injured patient, does the doctor get a “free pass” to avoid a medical malpractice claim? The answer is no – there is no malpractice exemption simply because the doctor saw the patient virtually.

In terms of medical malpractice claims, the same rules apply whether the patient was seen in-person or virtually. The law requires physicians to use “the degree of skill and diligence in the care and treatment of their patient that a reasonably prudent doctor in the same field of practice or specialty in their State would have used under the circumstances of this case.” This duty is commonly referred to as the standard of care.

What are some common reasons to file a medical malpractice claim, and can these also apply to telemedicine malpractice?

Medical malpractice claims typically arise when healthcare providers deviate from the standard of care, causing harm to the patient. Common reasons for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit include:

  • Misdiagnosis or Delayed Diagnosis: Failure to correctly diagnose a medical condition or delays in diagnosis that negatively impact the patient’s outcome.
  • Surgical Errors: Mistakes made during surgery, such as wrong-site surgery, leaving surgical instruments inside the patient, or other procedural errors.
  • Medication Errors: Administering incorrect medications or dosages, leading to harm.
  • Birth Injuries: Injuries to the baby or mother during childbirth, often resulting from negligence.
  • Lack of Informed Consent: Failure to adequately inform the patient of the risks and potential outcomes of a treatment or procedure.
  • Negligent Follow-up Care: Inadequate post-treatment care that leads to complications or worsens the patient’s condition.
  • Failure to Monitor: Inadequate monitoring of a patient’s condition, especially in critical situations.

When it comes to telemedicine, similar principles apply. Medical negligence in providing virtual care can lead to malpractice claims. Issues may arise from misdiagnoses based on limited information, prescribing errors, or inadequate follow-up in a remote setting.

It’s crucial for medical professionals engaging in telemedicine to adhere to the same standards of care as in traditional settings to minimize the risk of malpractice claims. Clear communication, proper documentation, and adherence to professional guidelines are essential in both in-person and telemedicine contexts.

Under what circumstances could a teledoctor be considered at fault?

If an injured patient brings a cause of action against their teledoctor, the patient could not rely solely on the unsuccessful efforts of their provider to prove the doctor’s negligence. The burden would be on the patient to show that the doctor failed to meet the standard of care under the circumstances surrounding a telemedicine appointment.

This would require the patient to find qualified experts, (i.e. other doctors licensed to practice in that state), to testify about the standard of care. They would have to describe how the teledoctor deviated from that standard under the specific facts known in that instance. Based upon the well-known pros and cons of telemedicine, it may be challenging to find an expert to critique the teledoctor’s judgment, but every case is unique.

Thorough and accurate documentation is also crucial for supporting telemedicine malpractice claims. It serves as a record of the care provided, helping to establish the context, actions taken, and any factors contributing to the outcome. Based upon the well-known pros and cons of telemedicine, it may be challenging to find an expert to critique the teledoctor’s judgment, but every case is unique.

Can a medical malpractice lawyer help me?

The complexity of these cases requires an experienced advocate to help an injured patient navigate the process. If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of medical malpractice, Allen & Allen may be able to help. Call today for a free consultation at 804-353-1200.