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Telehealth services and medical malpractice issues in Arizona

In April 2018, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed a bill into law that expanded insurance coverage to include telehealth services such as remote patient monitoring. Almost all large employers offer these services to their workers when they are available, but eliminating face-to-face meetings with doctors has raised concerns among doctors and medical malpractice insurers. Research suggests that using algorithms to scrutinize patient data and diagnose medical conditions reduces mistakes and improves outcomes, but the technology and the patient being diagnosed are often in different states.

This raises thorny legal issues as patients who wish to file medical malpractice lawsuits are often required to do so in the states where they live. This means that physicians and their insurers could face litigation in faraway venues where they are not licensed to practice medicine. The most common type of malpractice lawsuit arising from telehealth services are cases involving doctors who prescribed medications without first examining the patient in person.

In 2008, a pharmacy was sanctioned for violating Arizona state law for filling such a prescription. Decisions such as this one could lead pharmacies to question or deny prescriptions from out-of-state doctors due to liability concerns. Telehealth services are designed to make life easier for patients who would find it inconvenient or difficult to visit a doctor for minor medical issues, but these benefits may be restricted until nagging legal questions have been addressed.

Those who read Arizona professional license defense blogs may be aware that doctors who practice telemedicine may find themselves facing disciplinary action in their home states and prosecution for practicing medicine without a license in the state where the patient lives. Attorneys with experience in this area might help doctors and insurers to navigate these issues by scrutinizing state telehealth laws and medical malpractice policies regarding unlicensed services.

Source: The Arizona State Legislature, Senate Bill 1089

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