‘Virtual Medicine’ May Be Cause for Concern
The number of doctors and hospitals making virtual house calls in recent years has skyrocketed, leaving many concerned about the potential for medical malpractice.
Some attorneys warn that virtual medicine could lead to a deluge of malpractice claims as a result of inadequate or inappropriate care, especially as a result of a failure to diagnose or even misdiagnose a patient’s condition.
Medical malpractice attorney Veronica Richards, a former nurse practitioner, expressed concern over the increase in the use of virtual house calls. She warned that Internet communication lacks the clarity and directness of a face-to-face diagnosis.
“My concern is more the ‘Hey, my foot hurts, it looks purple to me,’ and somebody tells you to elevate your foot when really you need emergency surgery. In med-mal, what opens the floodgates [to lawsuits] is very catastrophic results that were avoidable,” she said.
Despite the potential for diagnostic error, doctors have begun to embrace the convenience of treating patients online. Insurance carriers are even beginning to pay for so-called online visits.
Next month, Cigna HealthCare members in California will be able to take advantage of online doctor’s visits. The service will be extended to members in New York, Florida, and Arizona next year.
Children in Georgia and New York are receiving online diagnoses for ear or throat infections through the use of high-tech video equipment, while homebound patients in Hawaii and Pennsylvania hold long-distance videoconference calls with their doctors.
The increase in the number of doctors and hospitals participating in virtual medicine seems to be marking a shift in the way healthcare will be conducted in the future. However, many remain ambivalent about the standard of care that can be provided to patients via the Internet.
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