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Handling medical negligence cases in the everyday practice of law, I see with far greater frequency “medical records” which consist of email correspondence between the patient and the medical provider and/or messages referencing communication via telephone. This practice of medicine is generally referred to as telemedicine, that being the long distance practice of medicine via telecommunications consisting of telephone, internet and video conferencing. This new and increasing method of providing medical services and advice is fraught with challenges and potential risks.

Telemedicine can be an efficient method for physicians to manage their ever increasing patient panels, shorten time to a point of care, and decrease healthcare costs. Telemedicine can be effective in circumstances where geography, lack of transportation, and availability of the healthcare provider are significant issues. In addition, telemedicine can be used in managing certain acute and chronic situations and even serves as an effective triage tool in an emergency department. However, a true emergent, critical or life threatening situation will likely still require the hands-on care and treatment of competent medical professionals. Telemedicine is currently in use in many emergency room situations where ambulance attendants phone the emergency room to contact physicians or mobile intensive care nurses who provide orders during transport and pending arrival to emergency room facilities.

As the services continue to expand, multiple challenges do exist, not only to patients and medical professionals, but to the public at large. There are increasing issues involving patient verification and protection of patient privacy. Confirmation of a “physical” exam to document symptoms and conditions is curious. The quality and qualifications of the physician or healthcare provider; licensing; and availability of insurance are issues of concern. Another potential area ripe for neglect is the fraud or drug shopping by patients for prescription medications.

Telemedicine is an evolving method of medical care. As with any type of medical care, it is ripe for potential neglect and abuse. As a warning to the wise, be careful with the use of telemedicine and confirm the knowledge of and understand the identity of the medical provider, the qualifications, care and treatment being recommended. As telemedicine evolves, so does the legal profession in response to these new methods of treatment. Telemedicine is an area ripe for abuse and neglect and potential claims of medical neglect.

If you have any claim for injury arising from telemedicine or other medical care and treatment received from healthcare providers, the legal professionals at Heiting & Irwin are available to assist you.

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