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Study looks into online medical mistakes

For patients in Illinois and across the U.S., new technology that allows medical visits to be completed over the internet might seem convenient. These programs, however, are still in their infancy and research is continuing to determine their safety and usefulness. One particular study has looked into websites in California that are meant to replace a trip to the dermatologist with what is known as "teledermatology." In this study, 16 of these websites gave recommendations that were against practical guidelines, made wrong diagnoses, and did not give necessary information regarding potential side effects and pregnancy dangers of prescriptions.

In the study, individuals posed as patients submitting various dermatology cases. These included images, infectious, inflammatory, and neoplastic conditions. The images that were used were not of the people who were patients, but of online images found via search engines. The patients stated that they did not have insurance and paid the fees with gift debit cards. They did not give fake identifications. The patients were given a clinician and, in 68 percent of the cases, did not have any choice in the medical professional they saw. In only 26 percent of cases, the professional's licensure status was disclosed. Some used physicians who were not licensed in the state.

The study is limited in that there is no method to know whether the medical professionals would have performed better had the patient been in front of them in comparison to treating them online. In fact, some patients were given a correct diagnosis. Yet, if there was extra information needed about the patient's history, the next questions that should normally have been asked were not. With the patients in this study, 77 percent received a diagnosis or a likely diagnosis. In 65 percent, the people received prescriptions. A minority received disclosure about dangers. Several diagnoses were missed.

Whether patients are seeking treatment online in a similar medical specialty like dermatology or are doing so for another medical issue, there is a certain amount of trust that is given when using this new method of medical care. But mistakes can occur and lead to serious injury and illness. It can even lead to death. If there is a delay in diagnosis or a fatal failure to diagnose, whether through an online examination or in-person, the family left behind needs to understand how to move forward with a wrongful death lawsuit to seek compensation damages suffered.

Source: reliawire.com, "Teledermatology Study Raises Misdiagnosis Concerns," Denise Rosenfeld, May 16, 2016

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