A doctor-patient relationship is one that requires an enormous level of trust. We all turn to and ultimately rely on doctors when faced with a health-related concern. As a result, most of us are careful when choosing a physician with whom we are comfortable and feel we can truly rely upon. When faced with a health scare, the last thing on anyone’s mind is whether a doctor-patient relationship has been formed under the law. Thankfully, the South Carolina legal system recognizes this reality and has implemented rules and regulations surrounding both the formation and maintenance of the doctor-patient relationship to protect patient privacy and encourage comfort and confidence in that relationship. In this article, we explore how modern pathways for communication could affect your medical malpractice claim should you need to reach out to Elrod Pope Law Firm in South Carolina, to start a case.
How Can Modern Technology and Communication Affect My Medical Malpractice Claim?
However, technological developments and a preference for electronic communication over in-person interactions have muddied the waters in assessing the formation of a doctor-patient relationship. The reality is that we live in a society where text messaging, emails, video conferencing, and other forms of electronic communication are more common and viewed as more efficient than face-to-face interaction.
Before electronic communication became commonplace, it was fairly simple to establish whether a doctor-patient relationship had been formed. You were examined by your doctor in person, you spoke to him or her face-to-face, and he or she prescribed you medication while in your physical presence.
However, the use of electronic communication is becoming a commonly utilized medium for the examination and diagnosis of patients. This new preference for electronic communication in medicine, also known as “telemedicine” presents more legal questions.
Geographic obstacles and the interest of efficiency make the use of electronic communication in medicine an attractive option. As such, South Carolina now allows electronic communication such as video conferencing to serve as a legally acceptable basis for the formation of a doctor-patient relationship.
While this may be a forward-thinking step, it creates ambiguity in the formation of a doctor-patient relationship in the ever-evolving world of electronic communication. If you are communicating with your physician via email, video, or any other technology-based medium, you should discuss the legal implications with a personal injury attorney. Telemedicine could present a great deal of confusion and uncertainty with respect to whether a doctor-patient relationship truly has been formed.
You certainly do not want to find yourself a victim of medical malpractice and unable to pursue a personal injury claim because a doctor-patient relationship was never legally formed.
Why Does the Legal Formation of a Doctor-Patient Relationship Matter for a Medical Malpractice Case?
Medical malpractice requires that a patient who has suffered injury as a result of a physician’s negligence prove the following:
- There was a doctor-patient relationship at the time of the injury;
- Your doctor did not act in compliance with the generally accepted practices and procedures that a similarly-situated physician would have under the circumstances;
- Your doctor’s negligence or deviation from the generally accepted standards was the cause of your injury.
Of primary important here is the first element above: was a doctor-patient relationship truly formed?
Fully deciphering the legal implications of electronic communication on the formation of a doctor-patient relationship will require an experienced personal injury attorney. If you are in the Chester, South Carolina area, the lawyers at Elrod Pope Law Firm are here to help.
What Does “Telemedicine” Even Mean?
Telemedicine is defined as the use of telecommunication and information technology to provide health care from a distance.
Text messages, emails, live online chats, and many other electronic communications are an acceptable substitution for a physical, one-on-one visit with your primary care provider.
The applicable South Carolina statute can be simplified best into the following requirements as they relate to “virtual” doctor-patient relationships:
- The same standard of care applies to all doctors, whether their patient interactions were electronic or in-person.
- Medical records must be maintained in compliance with South Carolina rules and regulations.
- If an in-person exam is reasonably necessary for diagnosis, telemedicine will not suffice.
- A physician must be able to verify the identity and location of the patient and be prepared to provide the patient with the physician’s location and credentials.
- A diagnosis must be established through the use of accepted medical practices such as patient history, evaluation, and medical history.
- Doctor-patient confidentiality must be maintained.
- A physician must be licensed to practice medicine in South Carolina.
The Takeaway: Consult with a Personal Injury Attorney to Discuss Medical Malpractice
Protecting the interests of yourself and your loved ones in the face of technological advancement and changing laws makes it important that your actions match today’s laws when it comes to forming a doctor-patient relationship. Protecting your rights to a medical malpractice claim in the event of personal injury resulting from medical negligence requires the guidance of a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer.
Thomas E. Pope is a Personal Injury, Wrongful Death, and Medical Malpractice Attorney who practices in Rock Hill, Lake Wylie, and Lancaster, SC. He graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law, and has been practicing law for 31 years now. Thomas E. Pope believes in protecting the injured. Learn more about his experience here.