The Rocky Future: Telemedicine’s Benefits and Pitfalls

Telemedicine and Telehealth are undoubtedly gaining quick support in the United States, and internationally, due to the incredible medical benefits of diagnosing patients without needing the doctor to be physically present.  On April 15, 2015 Congress passed the “dox fix” bill, originally titled Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (H.R. 2).  The question we are left wondering is: does this bill actually help progress telemedicine in the United States?  The short answer is yes.  The Act is a glaring indication to medical providers that adopting innovative procedures, such as telemedicine, can increase their organizations likelihood of obtaining new payment prospects.  Beginning on July 1, 2015, third party payors will be required to reimburse medical providers on the same basis for telemedicine and telehealth programs as they would for face-to-face consultations. Indiana is just one of twenty-nine states that have passed Parity Laws for private insurance coverage of telemedicine.  An additional ten states have proposed legislation that should be voted on shortly.

Benefits of Telemedicine

It is without question that some cities in the United States provide their residents with greater access to medical care than other cities.  However, what happens for small towns across the globe that lack access to medical professionals capable to make the correct judgment in life or death situations?  The answer, unfortunately, is that without proper medical attention, some individuals do not survive; although, with the rise of telemedicine, doctors can more easily make qualified decisions over a computer monitor.  For instance, a drug called Tissue Plasminogen Activator (“TPA”)—administered a few hours after a stroke—can break up blood clots and reduce damage to the brain. However if administered incorrectly, the drug can cause fatal hemorrhages.  Only a stroke specialist would have the medical expertise to decide when to administer TPA with fewer complications.  By implementing telemedicine programs in smaller towns, a stroke specialist in New York City can diagnose symptoms of a patient in rural Alabama, effectively administering TPA.

Legal Implications and Pitfalls

While the benefits of telemedicine far outweigh the negatives, they cannot be ignored. With Congress’ explicit approval of telemedicine through “the Act,” the judicial system will be left with the inevitable task of determining who is accountable if there is a problem.  Without a doubt, technology has limitations.  Computer malfunctions, Internet connection issues, poor video quality, or lack of face-to-face consultation all attribute to a long list of potential lawsuits.  Using the TPA example above, if the doctor in New York City was to misdiagnose the patient via video messaging because of poor Internet connection, who would be at fault?  Potentially the doctor, hospital, insurance company, the telemedicine program, the internet provider would all carry some blame in this situation, but who would be liable?  With the rise in technology, accountability is blurred. In coming years, the judicial system may see a staggering rise in telemedicine cases, especially because of the incentives to implement Parity Laws for private insurance coverage of telemedicine.  The potential “flood of litigation” may overwhelm courts in the coming years.


Technology has limitations. Computer malfunctions, Internet connection issues, or poor video quality all can lead to potentially incorrect diagnoses.  However, when presented with the option of getting a qualified opinion or not, it may be worth the time and money to invest in a video monitor.  Along with complicated diagnoses, telemedicine also allows for long-term monitoring, outside of the hospital, which can decrease or prevent complications.  The benefits of telemedicine far outweigh any potential issues that may arise and can eventually save countless lives in the future.

Anthony Lopez is a currently 2L at DePaul University College of Law and is the Wolthers Kluwer Staff Member for the E-Pulse. Mr. Lopez would like to practice in the area of Health Law after graduation.