In the spring and summer of 2020, virtual healthcare visits increased over 4,000 percent, mostly due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The number of healthcare facilities offering such services also increased significantly, mostly due to supply and demand.
Previously, many facilities hesitated to offer such services, typically because of high implementation costs.
Virtual healthcare contacts do not feel as formal as in-person doctor visits. But this informality does not reduce the doctor’s duty of care.
If anything, the facility has even more responsibilities, given issues like online security, accessibility issues, and online prescriptions.
If the facility’s level of care fell below an acceptable standard, and that lack of care caused injury, a personal injury attorney might be able to obtain compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.
Additional punitive damages might be available as well, given a physician’s high standard of care.
Benefits of Virtual Healthcare
In the coronavirus age, virtual healthcare services have some concrete benefits, especially given the advanced internet infrastructure available.
Over the past several years, due to a shortage of staff and patients, many rural healthcare facilities have closed. Virtual healthcare allows rural residents to access doctors who are not within driving distance.
Broadband accessibility is sometimes a concern in this area. Almost twenty-five million Americans do not have reliable broadband access.
The Federal Communications Commission’s Connect America Fund provides grants which allow communities to expand their broadband infrastructure.
In addition to connecting patients with doctors, broadband connects urban specialists to rural hospitals and allows both rural patients and physicians to access a deeper pool of medical assistance.
Furthermore, virtual healthcare increases patient satisfaction. Today’s customers, including healthcare patients, expect a high level of convenience.
They do not like to wait. Virtual healthcare helps significantly reduce wait time, thanks to tools like virtual check-in.
Virtual healthcare also reduces costs by an average of $76 per visit. That’s a significant savings, especially among cost-sensitive populations.
Challenges of Virtual Healthcare
The virtual healthcare explosion does have some serious challenges to overcome. A failure to do so is arguably negligent.
Privacy, fraud, and security concerns are perhaps the most obvious risk area. Physicians must conduct virtual healthcare contacts in private environments.
That means no multitasking on a tablet or smartphone.
If anyone is in a position to overhear anything, the visit violates the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act’s privacy requirement.
Additionally, some devices or platforms automatically send sensitive information to advertisers and other third parties.
Housing data and substance abuse counselling are two examples. It’s not always possible to disable this feature, or at least it’s not always easy to do so.
Security breaches, mostly due to malware placement or hacking activities, affect millions of patient records every year.
The facility’s cybersecurity infrastructure must be robust enough to deter and defeat these attacks. Unless the platform has a successful track record in the healthcare industry, it is probably inadequate.
Virtual healthcare also involves licensure issues. All doctors must be licensed by a state’s governing medical board.
There is no internet exemption in this area. Virtual doctors cannot provide virtual services to patients in another state. Unlicensed physicians are incompetent as a matter of law.
There is also no internet exemption to the medical standard of care.
Doctors have a fiduciary duty toward their patients, when it comes to things like accurately diagnosing illnesses. In a virtual environment, this duty is not always easy to fulfill.
On a related note, federal and state laws limit online prescriptions of opioid painkillers and other controlled substances.
Virtual doctors must be made aware of these laws. Also important to know is that Medicare only pays for virtual healthcare visits if the contacts meet certain requirements.
Failure to adequately address these challenges could seriously injure patients. A data breach could affect thousands or millions of people, and a privacy breach could be equally disastrous.
Typically, these victims have remedies in both civil and criminal court.
Healthcare facilities have special responsibilities in the area of virtual healthcare visits.
For a free consultation with an experienced medical malpractice lawyer, contact Napoli Shkolnik PLLC. You may have a limited amount of time to act.