The Mayo Clinic is now operating a pilot project to offer "virtual consults" to patients living far away. The idea that a doctor must be physically present when conferring with a patient is going to be difficult for many doctors and health care providers to "unlearn," but the practice can save time, money and, ultimately, even lives.
Unfortunately, lawyers could throw a serious wrench into this promising new practice. According to Thomas Malone, a lawyer who heads a national group of malpractice attorneys, the practice "creates a wide opportunity for malpractice." His main argument seems to be that virtual consults will result in doctors spending less time with the patient.
This is faulty thinking for a couple of reasons. First, if a virtual consult is the only way a patient might see a doctor, I’d argue that "something is better than nothing." Second, many diseases can just as easily be diagnosed virtually as they can be in person. Specifically, this is true of internal injuries. Finally, the lawyer is unlikely taking into consideration how advances in digital technology are continuing to improve the quality and speed with which doctors can view and receive information. In short, telemedicine technology is only going to get better with time.
It would be a pity if lawyers inability to unlearn thwarts or impedes this promising new practice. It would even more tragic (and ironic) if in their zealousness to "protect" patients they actually ended up costing some people their lives.