Mitigate the risk of misdiagnosis in telehealth
Telehealth has expanded significantly since the start of the coronavirus pandemic last spring. The expansion of telehealth has included growth in specialties that previously experienced modest adoption of telemedicine, such as oncology. Using telehealth poses risks for healthcare providers, including misdiagnosis.
"The biggest malpractice risk is misdiagnosis simply because what the medical professional heard or saw during the interaction was incomplete, resulting in a misdiagnosis," says Peter Reilly, MS, North American healthcare practice leader and chief sales officer for Chicago-based HUB International. "There could also be the failure to diagnose a condition. For example, a dermatologist could fail to diagnose a skin lesion that could be more serious than just a rash. The other malpractice risk is if the doctor recommends a treatment plan that is not accurate. A doctor could get a treatment plan wrong because they are not skilled in telehealth visits. Very few physicians were trained to treat patients virtually."
Technology failures can also lead to a misdiagnosis, Reilly says. "There can be a short glitch that occurs in the visual or audio interaction that leads to the doctor hearing the wrong thing or missing something important."
He suggests two strategies to mitigate the risk of misdiagnosis in telehealth.
"In most instances, if the provider has any sense that there was not a very clear picture or robust opportunity to examine the patient, they need to recommend that the patient seek medical care in person. That may be challenging during the pandemic, but if there is any sense from the medical professional that something is not right, they should refer the patient to an outpatient facility or emergency room," Reilly says.
"While more costly, another option is to have another medical professional such as a nurse or physician assistant present during a telehealth visit. If that other medical professional gets a sense that something has gone wrong, it provides another level of risk mitigation. For some of the more complex specialties, this is a strategy that we have seen where medical providers can protect themselves," he says.