Telemedicine – Are There Increased Risks With Virtual Doctor Visits?

“Telemedicine” or “Telehealth” are the terms most often used when referring to clinical diagnosis and monitoring that is delivered by technology. Telemedicine encompasses healthcare provided via real time two-way video conferencing; file sharing, including transmission of health history, x-rays, films, or photos; remote patient monitoring; and consumer mobile health apps on smart phones, tablets, and devices that collect data and transmit it to a healthcare provider. Telemedicine is increasingly being used for everything from diagnosing common viruses to monitoring patients with serious long-term health issues.

The American Telemedicine Association reports that majority of hospitals now use some form of telemedicine. Two years ago, there were approximately 20 million telemedicine video consultations; that number is expected to increase to about 160 million by 2020. An estimated one-third of employer group plans already cover some type of telehealth.

Telemedicine implicates legal and regulatory issues as licensing, prescribing, credentialing, and cybersecurity. Pennsylvania recently passed legislation joining the Interstate Medical Licensing Compact, an agreement whereby licensed physicians can qualify to practice medicine across state lines within the Compact if they meet the eligibility requirements. The Compact enables physicians to obtain licenses to practice in multiple states, while strengthening public protection through the sharing of investigative and disciplinary information.

Federal and state laws and regulations may differ in their definitions and regulation of telemedicine. New Jersey recently passed legislation authorizing health care providers to engage in telemedicine and telehealth. The law establishes telemedicine practice standards, requirements for health care providers, and telehealth coverage requirements for various types of health insurance plans. Earlier this year, Texas became the last state to abolish the requirement that patient-physician relationships must first be established during an in-person patient/doctor visit before a telemedicine visit.

As telemedicine use increases, there will likely be an increase in related professional liability claims. One legal issue that arises in the context of telemedicine involves the standard of care that applies. The New Jersey statute states that the doctor is held to the same standard of care as applies to in-person settings. If that is not possible, the health care provider is required direct the patient to seek in-person care. However, the standard of care for telemedicine is neither clear nor uniform across the states.

Another issue that arises in the context of telemedicine is informed consent, especially in terms of communication, and keeping in mind that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently held that only the doctor, and not staff members, can obtain informed consent from patients. Miscommunication between a healthcare provider and patient is often an underlying cause of medical malpractice allegations in terms of whether informed consent was obtained.

In addition, equipment deficiencies or malfunctions can mask symptoms that would be evident during an in-person examination or result in the failure to transmit data accurately or timely, affecting the diagnosis or treatment of the patient.

Some of these issues will likely ultimately be addressed by legislative or regulatory bodies but others may end up in the courts. According to one medical malpractice insurer, claims relating to telemedicine have resulted from situations involving the remote reading of x-rays and fetal monitor strips by physicians, attempts to diagnose a patient via telemedicine, delays in treatment, and failure to order medication.

recent Pennsylvania case illustrates how telemedicine may also impact the way medical malpractice claims are treated in the courts. In Pennsylvania, a medical malpractice lawsuit must be filed in the county where the alleged malpractice occurred. Transferring venue back to Philadelphia County, the Superior Court in Pennsylvania found that alleged medical malpractice occurred in Philadelphia — where the physician and staff failed to timely transmit the physician’s interpretation of an infant’s echocardiogram to the hospital in another county where the infant was being treated.

The use of telemedicine will likely have wide-reaching implications for health care and health care law, including medical malpractice.

This post was written by Michael C. Ksiazek of STARK & STARK, COPYRIGHT ©
For more Health Care legal analysis, go to The National Law Review 

CBO Greenlights Telehealth Provisions in Senate’s CHRONIC Care Act

Last week, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) concluded that a key piece of telehealth legislation, the CHRONIC Care Act of 2017, would not, overall, increase or decrease Medicare spending. This score is significant as it marks the first time that CBO has concluded that providing enhanced Medicare coverage for telehealth services would be budget neutral and clears the path for Congress to pass the legislation in a tough political climate.

american health care actThe CHRONIC Care Act was developed by the Senate Finance Committee’s Bipartisan Chronic Care Working Group. If enacted, the bill would expand Medicare coverage of telehealth services in four ways:

  • Nationwide Coverage for Telestroke – Currently, Medicare will pay a physician for consulting on a patient experiencing acute stroke symptoms via telehealth only if the hospital where the patient is located is in a rural Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) or a county outside a Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). Under the CHRONIC Care Act, beginning in 2019, the geographic restriction would be eliminated and physicians would receive payment for telestroke consultations regardless of the hospital location.
  • Home Remote Patient Monitoring for Dialysis Therapy – Medicare requires that beneficiaries receiving home dialysis treatments have a monthly clinical assessment from their health care provider. Under current law, beneficiaries can only use telehealth to satisfy the clinical assessment requirement if the patient is at an authorized originating site (e.g., a physician office) located in a rural HPSA or a county outside an MSA. Beginning in 2019, beneficiaries could receive the required monthly clinical assessment from a freestanding dialysis facility or the patient’s home without geographic restriction.
  • Enhanced Telehealth Coverage for ACOs – The CHRONIC Care Act would apply the Next Generation ACO telehealth waiver criterion to the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) Track II, MSSP Track III, and the Pioneer ACO program. Specifically, the legislation would (i) eliminate the geographic component of the originating site requirement, and (ii) allow beneficiaries assigned to the approved MSSP and ACO programs to receive telehealth services in the home.
  • Increased Flexibility for Telehealth Coverage under Medicare Advantage Plans – Under current law, a Medicare Advantage (MA) plan may provide telehealth benefits beyond those that are currently reimbursed by Medicare. However, these enhanced telehealth services are not separately paid for by Medicare and MA plans must use their rebate dollars to pay for those services as a supplemental benefit. The CHRONIC Care Act would allow an MA plan to offer additional, clinically appropriate, telehealth benefits in its annual bid amount beginning in 2020.

The CHRONIC Care Act has been widely heralded by health care providers as a first step in removing barriers to providing telehealth services to Medicare beneficiaries. In a recent Senate Finance Committee hearing, health care providers voiced their support for greater coverage of telemedicine services. The Senate Finance Committee is in the process of marking up the bill.

This post was written by Carrie Roll of Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, P.C.