The increased use of telemedicine during the coronavirus pandemic raises concerns about whether providers’ medical professional liability insurance will cover them if they use it to treat patients across state lines.
The additional exposures posed by the pandemic also have prompted two carriers that participate in the hospital professional liability space to no longer take on new business or increase limits on their current clients. Their concern is that the increased foot traffic and additional work hours that hospital employees are taking on have changed the scope of the risk that they originally underwrote.
Another carrier has issued a supplemental coronavirus questionnaire on renewals and new business submissions. While they have not stated their intent, we can probably assume that it’s to gather more information to help underwriters gauge additional exposures that may be attributable to the pandemic.
Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have enacted emergency regulations to increase the use of telehealth to address the coronavirus epidemic, allowing doctors to consult patients over the phone and Internet. And because not all of these communications technologies are 100% secure, the federal government has relaxed some HIPAA privacy rules to facilitate telehealth during this nationwide public health emergency.
While greater deployment of telehealth could potentially reach more people without exposing patients or providers to the virus, healthcare providers need to make sure there are licensed to practice medicine in other states. While MPL policies typically respond to allegations related to professional services performed worldwide, such coverage also requires that providers be licensed in the state or states where the service is provided.
According to the Federation of State Medical Boards, 49 state boards, plus the medical boards of District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, require that physicians engaging in telemedicine are licensed in the state in which the patient is located. A dozen or so state medical boards do issue a special purpose license to facilitate the practice of telemedicine, but healthcare providers should obtain this license before they offer the service to ensure they will be covered by their professional liability insurance.
Telehealth also could expose healthcare providers who aren’t very tech-savvy to greater liability if a patient misconstrues a doctor’s order because of a bad connection or some other communications glitch. To address this new exposure, some insurers are introducing standalone telehealth technology errors & omissions coverage.
To ensure that your healthcare industry clients are adequately covered for these new coronavirus-related exposures, agents should:
- Inform insurers of any change in the scope of medical services being provided including telehealth.
- Be prepared for supplemental coronavirus questionnaires on renewals and new business submissions.
- Make sure hospitals and providers strictly enforce infection control protocols to protect both patients and providers.
Although federal legislation has been introduced to limit the liability of healthcare professionals during a nationwide public health crisis, healthcare systems still need to focus on risk management.