Although phones have been around for over a hundred years, telemedicine and telehealth are more recent. Thanks to modern technology, doctors and patients can now connect via a call or video chat instead of having in-person visits for certain interactions, such as prescription renewal. The ability to meet without travel times, waiting in the lobby, and other inconveniences have revolutionized many medical practices by saving time and even helping curb the spread of viruses by minimizing physical visits to only those that are necessary. However, with this new type of medicine comes a new type of consent form. We recommend using a professionally preformatted template to ensure your telehealth consent form has all the relevant data. In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about these unique documents and how to create or customize them to suit your needs.
What Is a Telehealth Consent Form?
A telehealth consent form is a legal document that a patient signs to permit a doctor to provide service by phone or video. This may be instead of or in addition to regular office visits but typically cannot replace an emergency call or any medical interaction that requires in-person treatment, surgery, or other similar medical needs. The form is part of standard medical consent documentation and should be included with patient files.
Why is a Telehealth Consent Form Important?
A telehealth consent form serves several vital functions. Below we’ve created a list of the reasons why these documents are so important for any medical practice that does virtual or phone consultations with its patients.
- Consent- A telehealth consent form is like a traditional consent to treatment form, except that it is specific to phone and video consultations.
- Information- By signing the telehealth consent form, you can ensure that your patients understand what will happen in the appointment. This includes occasional loss of service due to dropped calls and the fact that some insurers don’t cover this type of consultation.
- Protection- Practicing medicine without consent from your patient is only allowed in emergencies, to save a life, and when the patient isn’t capable of consent. Since that is never the case on the phone or video chats, having this signed document protects you against false litigation.
- Documentation- Documentation is a vital part of any medical practice. Having a signed telehealth consent form is necessary for your records.
Essential Elements of a Telehealth Consent Form
Telehealth consent forms are typically very brief. Unlike the intake paperwork at a traditional medical center, the more specialized and limited care options of remote access medical care mean there are fewer essential elements to include. However, some aspects of telehealth, such as patient rights and confidentiality, are exactly the same. The biggest differences are that only the services that don’t require in-person interaction are available, and most telehealth consent forms are digital. However, your in-office patients can also sign physical copies of the consent to save time and transit on certain types of future visits. Below we’ve listed all the essential elements in the order they typically appear on the document.
- Title- A clear title in large, bold print stating that this is a telehealth consent form
- (Optional) Risk Disclosure- List any patient-specific or overall risks you feel warrant mentioning, such as ‘telehealth evaluations are not a substitute for in-person checkups’
- Statements of Assent- This is what your patient is agreeing to. Each statement should be brief, clear, and in reasonable terminology, most people would understand, around an 8th-grade reading level. Have them agree to authorize treatment and mention other necessary consent items. These should include the fact that you may keep copies of any information, transcripts, or videos as part of their medical records, the fact that service interruptions may happen, and insurance doesn’t always cover telehealth services, in which case the patient bears the financial responsibility. When patients are filling these out in the office for future telehealth visits, you may want to have them check or initial beside each of these statements, but the signature at the bottom will suffice on digital copies.
- Patient Name- Have the patient type or print their name here.
- (Optional) Terms and Conditions- You may want a longer list of terms and conditions on a separate page, especially if this is a digital form.
- Signature Lines- Include space for the patient to sign. If the patient is a minor, they will also need a parent or guardian’s signature.
- Date- Have them indicate the date they signed the form.
- Reader/Translator Signature and Date- If a patient needs someone to read or translate for them, that person must also sign the form and date their signature. While this is rare, it is important to accommodate patients who need these assistive services.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget to offer to answer any questions the patient has about the consent forms or their telehealth appointment.
Medical care providers and patients alike have many questions about telehealth as this is a relatively new form of healthcare. We’ve answered some of the most frequently asked questions posed by people who wanted to understand more about telehealth consent forms for you below.
You do need a consent form for telehealth, especially if the services are clinical. Specifically, you must collect informed consent, including informing the patient that they can refuse the long-distance service option. You do not have to provide non-emergency services in person or by telemedicine, but if you do, you still have to observe the same standards and practices as a live office visit. Always have your patients sign a telehealth consent form before beginning any remote treatment or services.
A phone call can be considered telehealth. Although the term includes video services, any remote communication is telehealth, regardless of the device used. This means a laptop, desktop, internet-connected camera, tv, tablet, smartphone, or even a landline may fall under this generic title. However, letters exchanged by post, or prescriptions delivered in the mail and to your door are not telehealth as they don’t use these devices.
The dos and don’ts of telehealth are very similar to those in any other healthcare setting.
ᐅ Do provide services over the phone or the internet
ᐅ Don’t provide any services that require in-person assessment or for which you are not qualified.
ᐅ Do provide the same standard of information you would for any consent form, ensuring the patient understands what they agree to, the alternatives, and that they are never compelled to agree to treatment.
ᐅ Don’t forget that some or all of your session is subject to confidentiality laws.
ᐅ Do use the same courteous bedside manner as you would in any professional setting.
ᐅ Don’t forget to collect their written consent form. This includes digital consent documents signed by typing your name into a secure online form.
Telehealth does not violate HIPAA. Any entities covered under HIPAA may use remote communication technology, including video and audio-only devices like phones and computers. The individual or business can violate HIPAA standards, not the type of service in this case. If you are concerned about HIPAA in your telehealth practices, you should ensure you adhere to all the same standards as an in-person visit and collect informed consent in writing before you proceed. For more information on how to do this, check out the HHS website here (https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/privacy/guidance/hipaa-audio-telehealth/index.html#:~:text).
Before we answer this, it is critical to understand that these two terms are often used interchangeably, even though they have different meanings. Your telemedicine service or telehealth service may go by the other name. This doesn’t invalidate the services and reflects the changing nomenclature.
The difference between telemedicine and telehealth is the range of services offered. If a service offers telemedicine, it explicitly provides clinical medical services. Alternatively, a telehealth business may offer medical services and can also offer non-clinical options. For example, a telehealth business could provide medical document services or even education instead of long-distance visits with a medical practitioner.
Telehealth is a great alternative to overcrowded waiting rooms, transit times, and other unfortunate side effects of traditional medical practice. Although you can’t replace every appointment, having clients phone or video chat when they don’t need to come to the office is more efficient and much easier. However, it’s still vital to have patients sign telehealth consent forms to ensure that you are covered legally for the consultations. Fortunately, with a simple, reusable template, you can create customized documents that are as time-saving as telehealth itself.