If you’re like many people in Ohio and around the country, you may have had your first virtual medical visit during the pandemic. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the use of virtual video or telephonic medical appointments among Medicare beneficiaries alone increased from about 840,000 in 2019 to more than 52 million in 2020. But it wasn’t just the elderly who embraced telemedicine. More than 23% of respondents to a 2021 government survey said they had used telehealth services in the preceding four weeks.
While some of the increased usage is attributable to pandemic restrictions or concerns about exposure, increased use of virtual doctor visits is likely here to stay.
Limitations of Virtual Medical Appointments
Virtual visits offer some distinct advantages. You don’t have to leave home or work and drive to the doctor’s office. You don’t have to sit in a waiting room with sick people–something many especially appreciated during the worst Covid-19 waves. And if the doctor isn’t available right on time, you can keep working, watching television, or chatting with a family member while you wait.
But virtual appointments also have downsides. The most obvious and perhaps most significant is that the doctor can’t physically examine you during the appointment and can’t send you down the hall for a quick blood draw, or another test they deem necessary. In other words, the services a physician or physician assistant (PA) can provide remotely are limited–and not just by practicality.
The State Medical Board of Ohio prompts physicians and PAs considering providing telemedicine services to consider these two questions:
- Can I meet the standard of care for providing telemedicine in this particular situation?
- If the telemedicine patient visit will involve or is likely to involve prescribing, am I able to comply with the Medical Board’s prescribing laws and rules?
Later in the same guidance, the board goes on to say that the standard of care must be consistent with the standard for in-person care, and that the medical professional may face disciplinary action for any “departure from, or the failure to conform to, minimal standards of care of similar practitioners under the same or similar circumstances, whether or not actual injury to a patient is established.”
In short, medical professionals providing virtual care are held to the same standards as if they were seeing the patient in the office. If that’s not possible, then a virtual appointment isn’t the right solution.
What Happens When Virtual Medicine Goes Wrong?
An Ohio physician or other medical professional can be liable for malpractice when they fail to live up to the accepted standard of care in a particular situation and that failure causes harm to the patient. The state medical board has made it clear that the expectations are not lower if the doctor or PA is providing virtual services.
That means a medical professional accused of malpractice in virtual care should be held to the same standard as a medical professional addressing the same symptoms and conditions in a live setting. It’s the medical professional’s responsibility to determine whether a virtual visit is sufficient to allow them to meet that standard of care and provide effective assessment and treatment to the patient.
The State of Virtual Medicine Malpractice Law
So far, there hasn’t been much medical malpractice litigation relating to virtual visits in Ohio. In part, that’s simply because the popularity of virtual medical services has grown so quickly. Just a few years ago, this type of care was relatively rare. With the explosion in the use of remote medical services, we will likely see an increase in malpractice issues relating to virtual care.
For example, a doctor or PA meeting with a patient virtually could just as easily overlook a drug allergy and prescribe a medication dangerous to the patient, fail to note that a certain combination of symptoms could signal a serious illness, misdiagnose a condition, fail to follow up on test results, or breach the standard of care in many other ways.
However, these incidents may be less common in virtual visits simply because of the limitations on virtual visits. Doctors can’t virtually stitch up a laceration or perform surgery. They can’t even run most tests or have you squeeze their fingers to check the strength of your grip or check your reflexes. That means the most seriously ill or injured patients and those who need the most extensive examination and testing will generally continue to receive in-person care. In fact, failure to bring a patient in for live examination could, in certain circumstances, be an element of the failure to meet the accepted standard of care.
This area of law is still developing, but the bottom line is that a doctor or PA providing virtual care must provide assessment and treatment at the generally accepted level of care given your circumstances and the medical issue in question. If that doesn’t happen and you are harmed because of it, you have just as much right to pursue a medical malpractice claim as an in-person patient would.
To learn more about your rights, it’s important to work with an experienced Ohio medical malpractice attorney. Call 855-4PLEVIN, fill out the contact form on this site, or click in the lower right-hand corner of this page to chat.