Virtual medicine, or “telemedicine” is a growing trend in Indiana and the rest of the country, as family doctors and primary care physicians along with all sorts of medical specialists are using modern technology to visit with their patients over the phone or via web conferencing. There is no face to face interaction as the doctor gives a diagnosis or treats his or her patient.
Formally defined, telemedicine is the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve a patient’s clinical health status. Telemedicine includes a growing variety of applications and services using two-way video, email, smart phones, wireless tools and other forms of telecommunications technology.
Virtual Medicine in Indiana and Illinois
Virtual medicine, or remote medical care, is a huge trend right now. We will be seeing more and more telemedicine here in Indiana and Illinois, and many people probably like that idea.
- It does seem better to chat with the doctor over the phone rather than have to dress a sick child and take him to the doctor’s office, right?
- And for the elderly, how much easier to have a doctor “see” them over the phone and then have their prescriptions called into the local pharmacy — if the drug store delivers, then that senior citizen need never be inconvenienced in any way in order to get treatment. Wonderful, right?
It’s true that many see telemedicine as a way to provide better care to patients. There are issues, of course.
- If a doctor in Chicago calls a patient in Indiana, then can that doctor treat that patient if he is only licensed to practice medicine in Illinois?
- What about a doctor in Indiana calling someone in Illinois?
- How does an insurance company cover the cost of a telemedicine visit between doctor and patient?
Liability for Medical Errors Made in Telemedicine
From the perspective of those who have seen way too many physicians commit serious errors and hurt people during the course of diagnosis and treatment, and that is when they are in the same room with that patient, there is real concern about how doctors — or their insurance carriers — may try and limit their liability for medical mistakes because of telemedicine.
- Will doctors argue that there was never a doctor-patient relationship if they just talked to someone over the phone? In legal terms, when does the duty of doctor to patient arise in virtual medicine?
- Will doctors argue that they never received vital data necessary for treatment, even if the patient is wearing some kind of monitoring device? Will the patient have a finger pointed at them, arguing that the patient (or her device) failed to provide sufficient information to the doctor?
- Can insurance companies deny coverage over a malpractice claim arguing that the doctor’s policy does not cover virtual medicine?
Right now, telemedicine is still a new venture and while federal and state governments have been preparing for virtual medicine since the 1970s, it is still an unsettled area. That’s true not only for the medical community, but for the legal community as well. Bottom line, it will be up to the courts in future medical malpractice cases to answer some of these questions.