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Virtual Patient Care During a Pandemic

We have all been mandated to engage in social distancing and self isolation in order to prevent the further spread of COVID-19, and this includes physicians and other health care providers.  Delivering virtual care to patients continues to be an effective way to prevent the transmission of the virus. Many health care providers have adopted virtual care into their practice, where appropriate, to ensure that patients’ health care needs are addressed while minimizing the risk of potential exposure to COVID-19. 

Physicians and health care providers are required to safeguard the privacy and confidentiality of their patients’ personal health information at all times. It is important for the health care provider to evaluate the suitability and safety of the physical setting in which the care is being delivered to patients, and to have a plan in place in order to manage an emergency or adverse incident occurring during the course of the virtual delivery of patient care.  

From a privacy perspective, providing care virtually may pose some risk as there is an increased potential for a privacy breach. When providing virtual care, health care providers are required to continue to meet their legal and professional obligations as well as maintain the same standard of care that would apply to an in-person visit. Failure to protect the personal health information of patients and comply with the requirements under the Personal Health Information Protection Act (PHIPA) may result in a host of liability issues, including hefty fines for individuals and institutions.  

Health care providers must obtain patient consent to communicate virtually prior to proceeding with the remote delivery of health care services. This consent must be clearly documented in the patient’s file.  

The delivery of virtual patient care is not always appropriate. Health care providers must use their professional judgment to evaluate the circumstances of each case and determine whether the administration of virtual care will enable them to meet their legal and professional obligations, as well as the standard of care.

For more information, please feel free to contact the Professionals Practice Group at Siskinds.

Katherine Serniwka, Business Law Lawyer, Siskinds


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