Professions
Telehealth – A step forward or double edged sword?
Professional Indemnity Risks in Telehealth
Last updated 27 May 2021

Telehealth may have been around for many years, but it was a global pandemic that catapulted us decades into the future in terms of its adoption. A year on, experts have predicted that telehealth is here to stay. However, as a health professional, telehealth may bring with it its own set of risks and complexities which need to be kept in mind. Such complexities may give rise to allegations of professional negligence if not managed appropriately. Below, we explore the 3 key areas where health professionals may be exposed to professional negligence allegations, and some simple steps that might help to prevent the likelihood of such claims.
 

Body Language

Not having a patient in front of you naturally means you are not able to observe body language, or any other aspects of their physical presence that may indicate the real state of their health. Inability to see non-verbal cues means psychologists have had to pay closer attention to other factors, such as tone of voice and facial expressions.

Some psychologists are also getting around the matter by asking more direct questions, but this may not be enough for other health professions. Regardless of how you address the lack of visual cues in conducting a telehealth service, the reality is that there is still a likelihood that a client may misinterpret your advice, or claim your service or treatment using telehealth was not sufficient, leading them to suffer financially or emotionally. While taking due diligence can help prevent the likelihood of such allegations, it is also important to ensure the Professional Indemnity cover you have in place also includes cover for allegations that arise out of such situations.
 

Privacy Implications

Another area in telehealth that may present professional indemnity exposure for psychologists and other health professionals is privacy – both yours and your clients. When conducting a telehealth session, you of course need to ensure the space you’re working in is private, and not use speaker phone, but also consider your clients’ surroundings. For example, some psychologists have experienced cases where their clients were not able to find a private space in their homes to talk freely. Furthermore, it is important to be conscious of what you say back to your clients, especially if you can sense they may not be in a private location or if they have you on speaker phone.

In addition to physical privacy, another area of concern when it comes to telehealth is cybersecurity. Even if you feel this isn’t a risk for your business, with cyber crime constantly on the rise, the systems you use to contact your clients, conduct telehealth sessions, and store your client information may put you at risk of being targeted by cyber criminals. It’s therefore important to ensure you have adequate security controls in place on your network and computer to ensure you are safeguarding your clients’ personal data. Cyber Insurance is also a wise option for health practitioners who have a digital presence, or use the internet to operate their service.
 

Technical Difficulties

Any use of technology brings with it the likelihood of technical difficulties, and this is also the case for telehealth services. Technical difficulties such as slow internet connection means there may be times during your session when your client doesn’t hear some parts of what you say, which leads them to misinterpret your advice.

This can again, lead to claims of professional negligence if one your clients feel your advice had a negative impact on their health or life. Even if a client derives this conclusion based on a misunderstanding due to a technical glitch during a telehealth session, once your business has been named in a legal action, costs add up quickly, and the one way forward to rectify the situation may be with appropriate legal representation.
 

The importance of having the right Professional Indemnity Insurance

While telehealth has undoubtedly provided numerous benefits to the community, even outside of COVID-19, health professionals should not ignore the additional complexities that may lead to claims of professional negligence. It is important for Allied Health professionals to also review their insurance cover to ensure that allegations that arise as a result of a telehealth consult are covered under their Professional Indemnity Insurance.