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Telemedicine and Medical Malpractice Implications

The Telemedicine Revolution

As more Americans acquire health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, consumer advocates expect to see a surge in the demand for doctors nationwide, according to a recent article in USA Today. Right now, “about 10 million people already rely on telemedicine,” and that number is only expected to grow. But will it impact medical malpractice claims? And furthermore, what is telemedicine?

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, telemedicine is a type of doctor-patient relationship that occurs at a distance. It is a “two-way, real time interactive communication between the patient and the physician or practitioner at the distant site.” It requires electronic communication—specifically, the “use of interactive telecommunications equipment that includes, at a minimum, audio and video equipment.” In other words, a patient “sees” a doctor over a Skype or FaceTime connection.

Why would patients use this? It is more cost-effective than traditional in-person medical care, and certain states can elect to cover telemedicine under Medicaid. Moreover, according to the above article, many states across the country are actually encouraging the use of telemedicine by requiring private insurers to cover it.

Is telemedicine a good model to promote? For patients living in rural areas, teleconferencing with a doctor can be a less costly way to receive medical care. Typically, physicians will use telemedicine for two primary purposes:

  • Transmitting and discussing diagnostic images; and
  • Monitoring patients diagnosed with chronic diseases who have difficulty leaving their residences.

Telemedicine Statistics

While New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania are not currently among the states that require telemedicine coverage by Medicaid and private insurers, the American Telemedicine Association indicates that legislation related to telemedicine is currently pending in many states across the country. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, pending relevant telehealth legislation in our region of the country may looks like this:

  • New Jersey: no required coverage for Medicaid or private insurers;
  • New York: Medicaid coverage required;
  • Pennsylvania: Medicaid coverage required.

According to the New York Times, the telemedicine business is currently a booming one. In fact, over the past several years the telehealth business has grown by nearly 10 percent annually. In 2011 alone, telemedicine brought in more than $500 million in revenue.

Despite the growth of telemedicine, there are many fears about its impact on the practice of medicine. For instance, the American Academy of Family Physicians sees the benefits of telemedicine, but worries that it could prevent patients from staying in contact with a primary care physician.

If you have been injured after receiving care through any form of telemedicine, contact a medical malpractice lawyer today to discuss your rights.

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