The practice of medicine, wherever and whenever it occurs, always involves some degree of risk. Telemedicine, or the practice of medicine via wire communications, is no different. The practice of telemedicine is becoming increasingly popular because of its convenience and its ability to provide health care access to those in rural areas.
As much promise as telemedicine holds, one of the barriers to its becoming more widespread is the concern about medical malpractice litigation. At present, medical malpractice laws assume in-person care, particularly with respect to informed consent claims. With telemedicine, there is a risk of consent-based claims becoming widespread.
Informed consent is an important aspect of health care delivery, not only because it informs patients of the risks of a course of medical care and allows them to make informed decisions, but also because it serves as liability protection for physicians. Patients who are informed of the risks of a procedure are less likely to become litigious if one of those risks materializes. The issue with telemedicine is that the technology used in its delivery, including computers and smartphones, is prone to failure, and the systems used by providers are not highly developed yet. Patients participating in telemedicine should be aware of the risk of technological and systems failures, which could impact the delivery of care.
Mississippi is among a group of states which have passed advanced measures regulating the practice of telemedicine. Given the rural nature of the state, the law will hopefully allow greater health care access for the state. In our next post, we’ll continue looking at the issue of informed consent, both in telemedicine and in general, and how informed consent issues can become matter for medical malpractice liability.