Since the United States saw its first malpractice case in 1794, medical malpractice has shaped how doctors deliver healthcare. Protecting themselves from liability remains essential today, especially as clinicians change their practice or add new services.
Telehealth is one of the most notable changes in medicine today, and for a good reason: a virtual business model keeps lines of communication open between doctors and their patients in the safest possible way as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Telehealth also requires very little startup investment in training and equipment, making it attractive to practices looking for ways to provide care at lower costs. Then, it’s no wonder that the general telehealth use for outpatient care and office visits was 78 times higher in July 2021 than in February 2020. And the benefits for patients with increased accessibility to their doctor, less travel, and more access to their patient information is a huge benefit to patients and doctors.
Telehealth is the delivery and distribution of health-related services and information using the Internet, computers, smartphones, and other electronic devices. Telehealth covers everything from patient intake to billing, ordering DME, referrals, prescriptions, and self-reporting and engagement from patients.
Clinics and doctors are finding new ways to integrate telehealth into their practices. Practitioners can add telehealth and introduce their virtual clinic, for example, or provide follow-up care for their patients or follow-up on ER visits or patient chronic conditions. Telehealth makes it easy to offer counseling services, medication checks, and referrals.
While telehealth benefits both patients and providers, it also presents some challenges. Dealing with medical malpractice and telehealth malpractice insurance may be one of the most significant challenges for healthcare professionals using or considering telehealth as a long-term approach to patient care.
While there have been few cases of medical malpractice related to telehealth services, the surge in the use of telehealth will likely trigger a rise in these cases. Doctors and mid-level practitioners may be held liable for breaching the standard of care if patients suffer harm during the telehealth visits due to the provider’s negligent act or omission, misdiagnosis, or miscommunication. Software malfunctions and other technology-based risks may also threaten patient welfare in ways that put practitioners at risk for lawsuits.
Types of Telehealth Malpractice Insurance
Carriers provide a variety of telehealth malpractice insurance types to fit their customer’s needs best. Three types of insurance stand out: professional liability, cyber liability, and medical malpractice.
Professional liability is an umbrella term covering the many types of insurance needed by medical professionals. Often known as professional indemnity insurance or Errors & Omissions (E&O) insurance, professional liability insurance covers court costs and attorney fees associated with negligence claims and other types of lawsuits.
Cyber liability protects healthcare professionals from data breaches, device monitoring failures, and asynchronous failures that occur when remote email services reject messages. Doctors and practices can typically add a cyber liability policy to their existing coverage.
Medical malpractice is a must for every practicing healthcare professional, of course, to protect themselves from any claims against them made by patients and others. These policies cover negligent acts, errors, and anything else that may injure patients.
How to Ensure Proper Malpractice Insurance Coverage when Using Telehealth
Find out if current policies cover telehealth
Before adding telehealth, practitioners are wise to reach out to their insurance carriers to determine if their current policies cover telehealth services. Many carriers have created a list of technical requirements and telemedicine best practices. Some policies may not extend beyond state lines, for example, which means doctors who connect with patients via telemedicine while on vacation or in another state may not be covered. A telehealth ryder to a general practice malpractice liability policy is very common and available.
Find out if adding telehealth increases premiums
Premiums will not necessarily go up, as existing policies typically cover all visits, whether they are in person or via telemedicine. However, every carrier and policy is different, so it is essential to contact the insurance provider to determine if adding telemedicine will affect premiums. It is also important to note that insurance carriers may charge higher premiums for new practices that offer only virtual care. Doctors with an existing practice should not need to purchase additional coverage for their telemedicine services in most cases.
Make sure your policy covers the state(s) in which you plan to provide care
Contact your insurance provider to determine if your insurance plan covers every state you intend to service with telehealth.
Clarify whether you will need Cyber Liability insurance
Your existing malpractice insurance may already cover Cyber Liability. Contact your insurance provider to determine if you need to add Cyber Liability before offering telehealth services.
Determine if you need coverage for individuals or your entire clinic
Individual liability insurance is great for physicians, nurse practitioners, physical therapists, acupuncturists, or any other healthcare worker who wants to offer telehealth services. General liability insurance provides coverage for entire practices.
Research HIPAA-compliant telehealth platforms
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many healthcare professionals began using telehealth services to provide care safely. Unfortunately, some physicians started using the technology without realizing that the telehealth platforms and how they used them may not fully comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) or the amendments detailed in the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. Moving forward, it is imperative to ensure that any telehealth platforms used are HIPAA-compliant.
Malpractice insurance is essential for all practitioners, including those now using telehealth. Consult with your insurance provider and your telehealth platform provider for more information.