The future of healthcare may be largely virtual. Due to a combination of an aging population and a rise in chronic health conditions, there’s a rising demand for home-based healthcare.
Virtual healthcare means using technology to meet the needs of patients in the comfort of their own home – often without the direct physical presence of a healthcare worker. It can involve a range of techniques, from using wearables to monitor a patients’ health and wellbeing, to delivering consultations remotely via video linkups.
The potential of virtual healthcare truly became clear throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Social distancing measures made in-person consultations difficult. So in response, the NHS moved to online consultations. People soon learned that it was possible to see your doctor without necessarily being in the same room as them.
But new technologies and practices always bring new risks. And as virtual healthcare grows in popularity, many are wondering: Will medical malpractice insurance cover the new risks that virtual healthcare practitioners face?
The Risks of Virtual Healthcare
Medical malpractice insurance covers healthcare workers for damages or claim expenses that may arise as a result of their work. It can also cover financial losses caused by negligence, loss of documents, confidentiality breaches, and even claims of libel and slander.
There are two main types of medical malpractice insurance policies: Occurrence policies and claims-made policies. You can learn more about the distinction, and find out what each type of policy covers, here.
The problem is that, until now, insurers have designed medical malpractice policies with in-person consultations in mind. Virtual healthcare, though, brings a range of new risks that many insurers and practitioners might not have anticipated:
- Data Security and Patient Confidentiality – Many virtual healthcare systems rely on patients using wearable tech to track their health and fitness. This will generate a huge amount of deeply personal data. And without sufficient security, all of this data could be compromised by a cyber breach. If a hacker targeted a health database, would a healthcare practitioner’s medical malpractice policy cover them for the breach of confidentiality?
- A Challenging Professional Relationship – If you’re conducting a virtual consultation, can you really be sure that the patient you’re talking to is who they say they are? Can you verify their location and identity? If there’s any doubt, it can cause huge problems when it comes to issues like disclosure and consent.
- Professional Indemnity – Most medical malpractice policies include professional indemnity cover. But what if a patient feels like their doctor overlooked a certain symptom during a virtual consultation that they might not have missed during a face-to-face consultation? Would this be classed as simple negligence, or is the issue more complex than that? And most importantly, would the doctor’s medical malpractice insurance cover the perceived oversight?
- Tech Issues – If there’s a problem with a patient’s wearable tech – or even if there’s a simple network error – it can fundamentally compromise the quality of care a practitioner can provide. This could lead to miscommunication at best, and oversights and misdiagnoses at worse. But would the practitioner’s medical malpractice policy hold them liable for tech issues that are beyond their control?
- Insurance Complications – Some medical malpractice policies may only cover healthcare workers at specific times and in specific places. This cover might not necessarily extend to a virtual healthcare arrangement, which might require a practitioner to work off-premises and outside of their standard hours.
A Flexible Approach
Virtual healthcare is still an emerging field. As such, there aren’t many medical malpractice cases to draw from yet. And as the technology and practices are still evolving, it can be a challenge to draw up medical malpractice policies that truly meet virtual healthcare practitioners’ needs.
But it’s not a hopeless situation. There are many strategies both practitioners and insurers can adopt to minimise risk:
- Open and Ongoing Communication – Practitioners should be clear about the type of care they offer, and they should update their insurers should anything change. This way, their insurers will be able to tailor their cover to meet their needs.
- Security – Practitioners should spare no expense when it comes to safely collecting and storing patient data. They must also devise processes to verify their patients’ identities. And as healthcare moves to the digital space, practitioners should bolster their medical malpractice cover with cyber security cover.
- Risk Management – Practitioners should require patients to acknowledge and confirm that they understand the limitations of virtual healthcare. This could mitigate the risks of misdiagnosis and other malpractice claims. Virtual healthcare practitioners might also limit the sort of care they provide remotely. For example, they may decide to never write prescriptions without first meeting the patient face-to-face.
- Training and Education – Certain tech issues are inevitable. But if practitioners fully understand the tech they’re using, and the tech they’re advising their patients to use, then it could prevent many small issues from developing into full-blown crises.
If you have any questions or would like to discuss your options when it comes to medical malpractice insurance, contact our Tapoly team at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also call our helpline on +44(0)2078 460 108 or try our chat on our website.