As telehealth becomes a more popular and available method of healthcare, especially during COVID-19, we want to provide a guide of resources for healthcare professionals navigating the sometimes un-chartered waters of telemedicine. In this article we will go over what you need to know when it comes to telehealth informed consent.
What is telehealth informed consent?
Telehealth informed consent is the ongoing agreement that we make with our clinics and patients about the treatments we offer. It is the process of getting permission before we conduct a healthcare intervention on somebody or disclose personal information. Informed consent is more than just a document, but rather a process. It is a meeting between the clinician and the clinic/patient where the clinician is reasonably assured the patient knows and understands what is going to happen to them during treatment, that all of their questions and concerns have been answered and that they are in full agreement.
After that process is complete, the document is signed to serve as written proof of the discussion. In order to stay out of legal trouble, it is the responsibility of the healthcare provider to prove that they engaged in the process of informed consent with their patients, document what questions were asked and answered and any other relevant things that were discussed. According to Telehealth.org, the details of informed consent are often the most important evidence should a healthcare provider need to defend themselves in a malpractice lawsuit, that is why this step must not be skipped. Skipping the process because you have already treated a patient or because you are looking to make your telehealth session quicker is strongly discouraged.
Legal requirements for what exactly has to go in the informed consent agreements varies by state. So, it is of the utmost importance that you are briefed on the laws in the state you are practicing in, and with telehealth, the state your patient is in. With telehealth informed consent, the definition of teleheatlh should be explained as well as the expected benefits and risks associated for the patient as well as a description of the security measures. Telehealth informed consent can come in the form as a written document that needs to be signed by the patient, an oral acknowledgement that is then noted in the patient’s file, or a combination of both.
Discuss informed consent prior to engaging patients
The best practice is to get in the habit of going through the informed consent process before treating every patient, every time. Even if informed consent is not explicitly mentioned in your state or practice’s code, all professional associations require that it is an ethical standard. With telehealth, you must also discuss all of the different technology-related issues with your patients before moving on to treatment. It is important to note that the discussion about informed consent is considered part of the treatment. It is the chance to define the therapeutic relationship, boundaries and set expectations. You likely will need to mention informed consent repeatedly during different sessions, it is not a “one and done” deal.
Typically, informed consent is used for invasive procedures and experimental studies and not necessarily simply asking a patient how they’d like to receive services.
Medicare and informed consent
Just as we mentioned that informed consent may not be required by certain states and or clinics, Medicare is an entity that does not require informed consent be obtained prior to a service that is rendered via telehealth, as explained by the Center for Connected Health Policy. But, we still recommend practicing informed consent, as is required by the ethical standards of all professional associations.
Telehealth informed consent is a very important piece of the puzzle, especially in order to protect healthcare providers from potential lawsuits. Since the informed consent telehealth laws do vary by state and depending on what procedures are being performed on the patient, it is important for healthcare providers to do their research and brush up on the law requirements. One good way to do that is by accessing our Telehealthist Compliance Course. In the course, we go over all kinds of different laws pertinent to telehealth from parity laws, stark laws, liability, malpractice and informed consent. It is a one-stop shop to get you on your way to being informed and knowledgeable about the world of telehealth and all of the pieces that are included in the telehealth puzzle and how you can implement the best practices. Please contact us today to find out more.