The COVID-19 pandemic proved telehealth is a viable healthcare delivery option for patients and practitioners. Understanding and preparing for its risks will ensure it remains a safe and steadfast solution.
Jennifer Negley, Vice President, Risk Strategies Company
In the quest to provide quality medical care during the COVID-19 pandemic, many medical practices quickly shifted to or increased their use of telehealth. While telehealth grew out of financial necessity for practices during the pandemic, it remains in favor due to its convenience, affordability and efficiency for patients.
According to Doximity’s “2020 State of Telemedicine Report,” in 2020, virtual care accounted for more than 20% of all medical visits in the U.S., and is projected to drive $29 billion in total healthcare services. The same study found that up to $106 billion of current healthcare spend could be virtualized by 2023.
Patients are largely on board, including both the younger generation, which appreciates the expanded office hours and flexibility telehealth provides, and seniors, who no longer receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement for medical visit transportation. Doximity states that prior to the pandemic, just 14% of Americans had tried telehealth at least once. Since the coronavirus, that number has increased by 57%, and for those with a chronic illness, the number has increased by 77%. With no signs of slowing down, the prognosis for telehealth has never been stronger.
For all its benefits, telehealth is not without risk. When patients canceled in-person visits, many states relaxed regulations to help medical practices keep up with demand. Now, these practices are finding it necessary to establish standard practices and protocols to safeguard operations and mitigate malpractice risks. From an insurance standpoint, there are emerging liability exposures that will undoubtedly arise from the COVID-19 pandemic and rapid adoption of telehealth. As states relaxed regulation, so have malpractice carriers regarding their coverage of telehealth. Most, if not all, have now reverted to their original determinants for covering telehealth. If your practice was not approved by your malpractice carrier prior to COVID-19, it’s important to ask your broker to confirm whether you are meeting the requirements currently in place to avoid any coverage gaps.
Misdiagnosis: In telehealth, misdiagnosis is the biggest malpractice risk. Virtual consultations and examinations present challenges in patient communication, reviewing diagnostics and loss of contextual clues that may lead to misdiagnosis. According to CRICO, two-thirds of telemedicine-related claims received between 2014-2018 were related to misdiagnosis. With a lack of in-person visits, most carriers are bracing for a significant increase in claims of this type, adding to the worrisome uptick in frequency and severity across all filed claim categories.
Data Security Risk: Telehealth data security has never been more vulnerable and the means of attacks are rapidly changing. While most malpractice policies provide cyber insurance, coverage is often limited. Securing a separate, stand-alone cyber policy is critical in providing your practice the latest comprehensive coverage. Due to the evolving nature of cyber liability, having a brokerage team that specializes in this coverage could protect your practice from significant financial loss should it become a target.
State Jurisdiction: During the COVID-19 telehealth surge, geography blurred with healthcare professionals offering services across state lines. Physicians need to check with their medical malpractice carriers to determine proper insurance coverage since many have tight geographical limitations.
One thing is certain. Telehealth is here to stay and getting stronger. Make sure your program is in top-notch shape, so patients receive the right care, at the right place and time.
For more information on insurance options, contact Jenn Negley at 267-251-2233 (cell) or email@example.com.