Let me get right to the point. While some malpractice companies are forthright about their coverage for telepractice of all types, regardless of what is is called (e.g., telemental health, online therapy, online counseling, etc.), there are two serious problem areas with some malpractice carriers.
- The most serious issue related to malpractice coverage involves practicing over state lines. While most companies won’t give us this information voluntarily when we ask them if they cover our telepractice, they won’t if we practice over state lines without the proper license or registration as any foreign state or country. That is, if we are found guilty of breaking the law by practicing over state lines without the appropriate license, our malpractice insurance coverage will most likely be nullified. A company may collect our $1000+ premiums for years, tell us telepractice is covered, yet not be liable for covering us if we didn’t have the proper license in place.It’s our job to know not only the limits of our licensure — and malpractice coverage, apparently.
- The second issue is that some malpractice companies do not cover the potentially most expensive type of liability for telepractice. Some large malpractice companies won’t cover civil suits for telepractice, but rather only cover regulatory suits. Civil suits are the expensive type that might be involved when a family sues us in civil court. These rarely occur in mental health, but when they do occur, the clinician’s life is never the same thereafter. We often don’t hear about them because most carriers settle out of court, and usually by requiring us to plead guilty and accepting a plea bargain. Regulatory suits are the type involved when a family files a complaint with our licensing board and the board investigates our practice.
What To Do?
If you contact your company to determine your malpractice carrier’s coverage, be sure to:
- Ask about civil vs regulatory coverage for telehealth by detailing exactly what you plan to do, specifying the population served, the technology chosen, and the specific geographic location of your clients/patients.
- Whatever you are told, get a fully detailed statement of your coverage in writing.
- Ask your private attorney to review the description of coverage you are sent by your carrier. Some carriers intentionally use language that relieves our anxieties, but leaves us unprotected when something goes wrong in telepractice. Some clinicians have been quite surprised when they follow the steps we suggest above.