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Does Direct-to-Consumer Telemedicine Have a Lower Risk of Medical Malpractice?


A recent study determined that direct-to-consumer (DTC) telemedicine services have an extremely low likelihood of medical malpractice claims, according to an article by MD Magazine. In the medical context, DTC refers to retail companies that provide medications directly to patients, with or without a prescription.

Titled, Reported Cases of Medical Malpractice in Direct-to-Consumer Telemedicine, this study featured investigative work by doctors from the Yale University School of Medicine and Massachusetts General Hospital. Specifically, this study examined medical malpractice cases that:

  • Filed against a DTC service or their direct representative; or
  • Named a healthcare professional in conjunction with a claim against a DTC service; and
  • Featured a legal decision, such as a dismissal, judgment, opinion, ruling, or similar action.

Applying the criteria above, the investigative doctors isolated 551 different cases that occurred during a one-month timeframe in 2018. Given that DTC services garner billions of dollars in the United States annual, it seemed initially surprising that none of those cases yielded a medical malpractice decision against these services. But upon further investigation, the report’s authors isolated several explanations for this phenomenon.

On a primary level, the doctors responsible for this report noted that only 25 percent of medical malpractice cases reach an actual court decision. Stated another way, this study did not evaluate cases in that were still working their way through the legal system. Additionally, this study could not assess cases that reached an out-of-court settlement, the results of which are generally confidential.

Secondarily, the report’s authors noted that DTC telemedicine often involves low-risk services. For example, many DTC services offer over-the-counter medications for acne and similar conditions. These treatments do not generally feature a high-risk factor. As a result, the risk of medical malpractice claims is correspondingly low.

On another level, many DTC services require acceptance of their terms of service before delivering medications to their customers. These terms and conditions . In many cases, DTC telemedicine companies recommend that customers seek professional medical assistance for persistent medical issues. Taken as a whole, these legal terms help insulate DTC telemedicine companies from legal liability.

Conventional wisdom suggested that DTC telemedicine services would lead to elevated rates of medical malpractice. The thinking here is relatively straightforward. Without the counsel and guidance of a licensed professional, it will be difficult to render reasonable medical advice.

Overall, this study indicates that DTC telemedicine companies have a low risk of medical malpractice. Though as the report’s authors noted, there are many possible explanations for this conclusion. Ultimately, time will tell whether DTC telemedicine companies can continue to avoid medical malpractice liability.

Do You Need Legal Help?

If you need legal help with a potential medical malpractice claim in Maryland, it can be extremely beneficial to reach out to an accomplished Baltimore medical malpractice attorney. The attorneys at Iamele & Iamele, LLP in Baltimore, Maryland, feature established skills and qualifications in the arena of personal injury law, including medical malpractice claims. If you need legal help, contact us today for a free initial consultation.


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