Telehealth offers professionals extra power and freedom to help their patients, but great power comes with great responsibilities. As telemedicine becomes more popular and accessible, it’s time to discuss virtual healthcare and how malpractice insurance can protect telehealth providers.

Regular medical malpractice insurance isn’t enough for you if it doesn’t cover risks specific to telehealth services. Telemedicine providers face all the risks that other healthcare professionals face, but they contend with other malpractice risks associated with ePHI breaches, technical failures, and miscommunication.

Here’s a detailed take on the importance of malpractice insurance for telehealth providers:

What Is Medical Malpractice Insurance?

We like to describe malpractice insurance as a safeguard that protects you from claims when patients allege your treatment or mistreatment caused them harm. It’s typical coverage for professional liability, specifically for physicians and other healthcare professionals.

It protects you if someone accuses you of negligence while performing your duties. Negligence means failure to provide proper care, skills, or knowledge or violation of duty that results in injury or harm to the patient. 

Malpractice insurance covers legal fees related to the claim, settlement costs, and damages awarded to the plaintiff (the person making the accusation). For more information, read; “Liability Coverage: Why Every Healthcare Professional Needs It.

The Evolution of Telemedicine

Telemedicine has been around since the 1950s. One of its earliest uses was when the University of Nebraska used two-way tele-radio communications to transmit sensitive, protected health information across campus to medical students.

The advent of the internet made telemedicine more accessible and the Covid pandemic brought it into the mainstream. According to the CDC, 37% of American adults reported using telehealth services by 2021.

With the rise of telemedicine, insurance that covers risks associated with providing virtual healthcare services is necessary.

Does Telemedicine Present Unique Challenges for Malpractice Insurers?

Yes, telemedicine presents quite unique challenges for malpractice insurers. As a general health care provider, you’re liable for any harm caused to your patient due to negligence or malpractice. Here’s more on healthcare professional insurance and what you need to know.

The same principles apply to telemedicine providers, but virtual healthcare services pose additional risks. Let’s review the nuances between regular healthcare and telehealth that create unique challenges for insurance companies.

1. Limited Physical Examination

Telemedicine consults usually involve a limited physical examination of the patient. Telehealth providers must rely heavily on video and audio technology for diagnosis and treatment, increasing the chances of misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis.

2. Technical Difficulties

What happens when you lose internet connectivity during consultations or if the poor connection causes miscommunication, leading to harm?

Technical difficulties often hinder the effectiveness and accuracy of virtual consultations. In such cases, patients may experience dissatisfaction with their care and file malpractice claims against the provider.

3. Lack of In-Person Interaction

In traditional healthcare settings, providers can establish a personal connection with patients and assess their non-verbal cues. In telemedicine, this is not always possible, which can lead to misunderstandings and potential malpractice claims.

4. Cybersecurity Threats

With the transfer of sensitive patient information over digital platforms, cybersecurity threats are a significant concern for telehealth providers. A data breach or loss of patient records can attract adverse legal action, damaging your finances and reputation as well.

Special Rules That Telehealth Providers Must Follow

Besides these additional risks, telemedicine providers must comply with specific rules and regulations to avoid malpractice claims. These include:

State Licensing Laws

Telehealth providers must adhere to the licensing laws of each state where their patients are located. Failure to comply may cause you to lose your license, attract lawsuits, and ruin your reputation.

Informed Consent

You should always adequately inform patients of the risks associated with any consultation or treatment, including telemedical services. It includes explaining to patients all the limitations of seeking care online instead of in-person medical visits.

Before obtaining a patient’s agreement to receive treatment online, you must explain the limitations of virtual care and any potential risks involved.

Documentation Requirements

Documentation is essential in any medical setting but becomes even more imperative in telemedicine. Providers must keep accurate and detailed records of patient interactions, including any diagnoses, treatments, and prescriptions provided via telehealth.

HIPAA’s Privacy and Security Rules

Telehealth providers must also comply with HIPPA’s rules, especially those affecting ePHI (electronic patient health information). Providers must ensure the secure transmission of all digital records and follow strict protocols to prevent data breaches.

HIPAA allows for the use of email and platforms like Skype, but only if they are HIPAA-compliant. There are specific encryption and security protocols that these platforms must follow to be considered HIPAA-compliant and they’re evolving with our understanding of cyber-security. Providers must use secure telehealth platforms that comply with HIPPA’s privacy and security rules.

Understanding Telemedicine Malpractice Insurance

As with any medical practice, telemedicine providers must have malpractice insurance to protect themselves from potential lawsuits. However, the unique nature of virtual care means that standard medical malpractice insurance may not be sufficient.

Does Malpractice Insurance Cover Telemedicine?

While every policy is different, most standard malpractice insurance plans don’t sufficiently cover all risks associated with telemedicine compared to in-person medical visits.

Ideally, your regular healthcare insurance should cover telemedicine services. However, it is essential to check with your provider and ensure that telehealth is included in the coverage.

You may find clauses in your malpractice insurance that exclude or limit the coverage for virtual care. If so, you may need additional telemedicine-specific malpractice insurance to ensure full coverage.

No matter how thoroughly you’re covered, it’s always crucial to have clear and detailed documentation of all patient interactions to protect yourself in case of a malpractice lawsuit.

Factors Influencing the Cost of Telemedicine Malpractice Insurance

Similar to regular malpractice insurance, telemedicine malpractice insurance costs depend on factors like location, specialty, and coverage limits. However, some unique aspects of virtual care may also impact the cost:

  • Technology: Telemedicine relies heavily on technology, making it essential for providers to have access to reliable equipment and software. Insurance companies may consider the type and quality of technology used when assessing risk.
  • State Laws: Each state regulates telemedicine practices differently. Providers must be familiar with these laws, as they may affect the cost of their malpractice insurance.
  • Risk Management Strategies: Having proper protocols in place for telemedicine can help reduce the risk of malpractice lawsuits. Insurers could offer lower premiums to providers with effective risk management strategies.
  • Experience and Training: As with any medical practice, experience and training play a significant role in ensuring quality care and minimizing risks. Physicians with specialized training or extensive experience in telemedicine may receive better insurance rates.

It’s essential to thoroughly review your coverage needs with an insurance expert to help you determine the right amount of coverage and minimize costs.

Additional Considerations for Telemedicine Malpractice Insurance

In addition to the factors mentioned above, the following are a few other important considerations when seeking malpractice insurance for your telemedicine practice.

  • Tail Coverage: Tail coverage is an additional policy that provides protection even after your original policy has ended. For telemedicine providers who may see patients across state lines, it’s crucial to have tail coverage as state laws regarding the statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits vary.
  • Cyber Liability: With virtual care comes the increased risk of cyber threats and data breaches. It’s important to ensure your malpractice insurance policy includes coverage for cyber liability and data breaches.
  • Scope of Practice: Providers must ensure they are operating within their scope of practice when practicing telemedicine. It means following state laws and regulations and obtaining proper licensing and credentials to avoid lawsuits and legal complications. 
  • Informed Consent: As we discussed earlier, providers must clearly explain the risks, benefits, and limitations of telemedicine to patients and obtain their consent before providing care.
  • Documentation: Accurate and detailed documentation is crucial for both patient care and potential legal issues. Providers must ensure they have proper documentation procedures, including documenting virtual visits, informed consent, and any follow-up care plans.
  • Continuing Education: As technology and telemedicine mature, providers need to stay educated on best practices and updates in the industry. Many malpractice insurance policies may require a certain amount of telemedicine-related continuing education credits.

Don’t Ignore Telehealth Malpractice Insurance

Don’t overlook the need for comprehensive malpractice coverage as telemedicine continues to gain popularity and become a vital tool in healthcare. Despite its advantages, telemedicine also brings new risks and potential legal issues that require adequate coverage.

While traditional medical malpractice insurance policies may provide some coverage for telemedicine-related incidents, they may have limitations and exclusions that leave providers vulnerable.

That’s why it’s crucial to obtain a separate telehealth malpractice insurance policy that specifically addresses the unique risks associated with virtual care. Call us today for the most comprehensive malpractice liability insurance in Kentucky.