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Tips to reduce liability for telehealth services

The Department of Health and Human Services has relaxed regulations under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), at least temporarily. This allows medical professionals to conduct communications with patients using technology like Zoom and Google Hangouts. Although helpful for both physicians and patients during the current pandemic, there are concerns about liability for those providing these services.

Three specific areas that require careful consideration include patient privacy, diagnosis issues and communication concerns.

Consideration #1: Patient privacy

Having a private conversation with a patient while in an exam room is relatively easy. Achieving this level of privacy while using an online platform can require additional, proactive steps to replicate this experience. Since the pandemic, phishing scams and ransomware have increased by over 300%. As a result, it is important to make sure you are taking regular steps to ensure cyber security.

Consideration #2: Diagnosis issues

This is an issue for all physicians, at all times. However, use of digital platforms can make it more difficult to complete a thorough physical exam and increase the likelihood of a missed or wrong diagnosis, in part due to the issue discussed in the next point.  

Consideration #3: Communication concerns

It may also be more difficult to build a patient physician relationship during a telehealth visit. This can result in a lapse of information about the patient’s medical history or current symptoms, making it more difficult to make an accurate diagnosis. Tech difficulties can also cause problems, as the app could glitch or freeze during the appointment.

Properly drafted informed consent paperwork that touches on these and other potential issues that come with telehealth can help to mitigate the risk of liability.