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Informed consent in telemedicine practice: come up with a plan to cover all the bases

We’ve been looking in recent posts at the new rules released by the Wisconsin Medical Examination Board concerning the practice of telemedicine, and particularly at the issue of informed consent. As we noted last time, the new rules require physicians practicing telemedicine to meet the various requirements of informed consent under state law.

Meeting the requirements of informed consent in the context of telemedicine care is slightly different than in-person medical care. This is because there are different risks associated with telemedicine care. In coming up with appropriate documentation of informed consent, health care providers need to understand not only the requirements of state law, but also the unique risks of offering health care by telecommunication. 

There is, especially, the risk of technological failure, as well as the fact that health care is being delivered at a distance, which can increase the overall risk in otherwise routine care. There is also the risk of security and privacy breaches. There is also the need to address options for obtaining emergency care should something go wrong, as well as alternative care and ongoing care. Patients should also expect in telemedicine care to be provided the names and locations of other healthcare providers who can help assist in the process or in the provision of care. Patients should also expect to have a clear understanding of how the process works and what care is being provided.

In some cases, patients can become confused or physicians may not cover all the bases in obtaining informed consent. When that happens, the physician can end up under investigation and face potential discipline. The circumstances of the case dictate how serious the penalties would be. In any case, though, it is important for physicians to work with experienced legal counsel to defend their interests and to work out a plan to avoid problems in the future.