Do Virtual Patient Visits Increase Your Risk of Being Sued?

Neil Chesanow

Disclosures

October 22, 2014

In This Article

Minimize Your Malpractice Risks

Seeing patients virtually isn't inherently riskier than seeing them in the office, malpractice insurers believe. Nevertheless, you can take steps to minimize your exposure to a malpractice suit, and not jeopardize your coverage, during e-visits.

If your policy was issued when you were exclusively doing office visits, you should inform your insurance carrier that you plan to join a virtual physician network or add videoconferencing functionality to your practice website. Depending on the insurer and your policy limits, your online interactions with patients may or may not be covered, or may be covered for an extra fee.

"Our medical professional liability policy currently has an exclusion for telemedicine," explains Robert Francis of The Doctors Company. "We remove that by endorsement (that is, by adding a rider to the policy) when an insured physician tells us they will be engaged in telemedicine." This may incur an additional charge, he says, depending on how the firm evaluates the risk.

However, The Doctors Company policy form is 5 to 6 years old. "We are releasing a new policy form in 2015 that will remove that exclusion altogether," Francis says. "So there will essentially be automatic coverage under our policy."

"Many if not most carriers have begun to ask whether you are involved in telemedicine or are involved in any types of different practice patterns where you're not directly seeing patients," Howard Friedman says. "If you have historically answered no and then you take on a telemedicine contract, you have an obligation to disclose that change in your practice, and then the carrier will evaluate whether it's something they want to insure."

"The physician needs to address that with their insurer," Friedman cautions. "Otherwise, at minimum, you may wind up in a dispute with the insurer, and in the worst-case scenario, you may wind up without coverage if you had been asked in the past and answered no, and now you are involved in telemedicine."

It's especially important to keep your insurer in the loop if you plan to practice telemedicine in multiple states, Friedman says.

"Are your coverage limits adequate for the different jurisdictions in which you plan to practice?" he asks. "In Florida, for example, many physicians carry only $250,000 of coverage. With Florida's asset protection laws, that's all many physicians feel they need. But if you're seeing patients via telemedicine in New York or Chicago, that may not be adequate."

"Even if a physician becomes licensed in another state," Friedman adds, "that in itself doesn't necessarily mean that his or her insurance is applicable or adequate in that other state."

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