Study Finds Telemedicine Providers Misdiagnosing Skin Conditions

Telemedicine allows patients to consult with physicians and other health care providers remotely, usually through apps or websites. Recent changes in New Hampshire law now allow patients to have telemedicine visits with providers from the comfort of their homes or offices. Nationwide, the use of telemedicine is increasing rapidly, with over one million telemedicine visits expected to occur this year.

Researchers in California recently went undercover, posing as dermatology patients of 16 telemedicine companies, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article. The results were quite disturbing.

Many online physicians “treating” the researchers misdiagnosed serious medical conditions—including three who assured a patient that his aggressive form of skin cancer, nodular melanoma, was benign. The physicians also failed to advise the patient to follow-up with a doctor in person.

The study found that the diagnoses that required physicians to obtain more information from their patients lead to less accurate results. For example, none of the eight providers who consulted with a patient with secondary syphilis asked about his sudden onset of fevers or skin plaques. Instead, they simply agreed with his suggestion that psoriasis was the cause of his symptoms.

Another female patient presented with inflammatory acne. None of her twelve providers asked her about her visible facial hair or irregular periods, symptoms of the complex condition polycystic ovarian syndrome.

Two of the telemedicine companies, First Derm and First Opinion, connected patients with physicians located overseas, in violation of California state law that requires physicians treating patients to be licensed in that state. According to First Derm’s CEO, Alexander Borve, “there is no doctor-patient relationship” because patients remain anonymous.

While telemedicine is convenient for consumers, it is not without risk. Telemedicine patients do not always know who they are consulting with during their visit and whether their provider is qualified. The provider does not have the benefit of the in-person examination. Thus, misdiagnosis can occur and lead to disastrous results.

If you or a loved one has been misdiagnosed by a telemedicine provider, contact one of our experienced attorneys at Abramson, Brown & Dugan to discuss your rights.