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Article January 6, 2021

The rapid adoption of telemedicine

Despite the imperfections of telemedicine services many expect their usage to accelerate, with telehealth becoming more deeply embedded into the care delivery system.

COVID-19 has been a huge shock to many industries, but perhaps none more so than healthcare. The pandemic prompted a reckoning throughout the world’s healthcare infrastructure, shattering decades-old assumptions about how treatments should be offered. And this shift has challenged the relevance of the insurance solutions that healthcare providers have traditionally turned to.

In the last six months, health insurers and systems have made a strong push for patients to transition to telehealth platforms, to help alleviate the strain on emergency rooms and doctors’ offices. While global healthcare systems may have been inching towards telehealth for years, many experts believe that the pandemic has pushed the telemedicine revolution forward by a decade. These strides have prompted governments, payers and providers to double down on the digital revolution gains within healthcare.

Telemedicine is not perfect, however. The limitations of this model have been highlighted on numerous occasions during the pandemic. But despite the imperfections of telemedicine services, many expect their usage to accelerate as time goes on, with telehealth becoming more deeply embedded into the care delivery system as a result.

Liability insurance implications

From an insurance standpoint, there are a myriad of emerging liability exposures which will undoubtedly arise from the pandemic and subsequent rapid adoption of telemedicine solutions.

Healthcare professionals have been offering services outside of their normal jurisdiction or scope during the pandemic, with restrictions temporarily loosened. In the long term, this could become an issue, due to the geographical limitations of many insurance products. Regulatory issues have also arisen, with insurers expecting a new wave of medical board investigations as providers continue to grapple with a complex web of federal and state regulations. 

There is some confusion over privacy and security risks. Healthcare providers have rapidly rolled out technologies to provide broader access to care, sometimes overlooking security in the process. Mobile devices have been used to run services such as remote-triage tents, and we’ve even seen a relaxation of firewall rules to accommodate remote working.

Traditional providers have sometimes struggled to adhere to basic compliance requirements. It is common for many networks and providers to not have physical cyber security in place, and things like end-to-end encryption might not be common practice. New entrants may also not understand certain safeguards to protect patient information during remote consultations.

The rapid adoption of an electronic model will also increase attack surfaces for hackers and the subsequent risk. The increased risk of technology failure for providers should also be considered.

Providers that are now offering services which do not mirror those originally disclosed to insurers could see claims denied, due to exclusions or a lack of affirmative coverage. Many insurers cite a litany of limitations within their policy forms, and these were often written in a time when telemedicine wasn’t widely adopted.

A new wave of emerging risks has been magnified during the pandemic, so purchasing adequate protection from insurers who have a solid grasp on emerging exposures has never been more important. A revolutionary approach from the insurance community is now needed, to ensure that uncertainties are addressed and brokers can access the solutions their healthcare clients need.

To find out more about digital healthcare insurance, read our guide or get in touch with the healthcare team!