Malpractice goes mobile

09 May 2011

Sit through any presentation or panel discussion on the topic of m-Health, and you’ll hear a lot about the potential benefits – especially in emerging markets where patients outnumber doctors by a huge margin, and outnumber specialists by an even greater margin. You’ll hear about solutions, pilots, case studies, and all sorts of innovative apps. And, of course, the challenges therein.

One particular challenge you don’t hear much about: malpractice disclaimers.

That’s not to say everyone’s ignoring the issue of malpractice in m-Health. It does come up in public panels, and I’m sure it comes up even more in closed-door discussions. But it raises a fair question that should be of interest to cellcos looking at their potential role in the m-Health ecosystem: if a mobile app gives a bad diagnosis, could you end up as a co-defendant on a malpractice lawsuit?

Maybe it’s because I’m originally from the US, where frivolous lawsuits are practically a commodity business (and where healthcare itself is a major political football), but this strikes me as a key issue for any operator or app developer with an eye on the m-Health field. While developers of health-related apps routinely include disclaimers reminding the user that an app isn’t the same thing as an actual doctor, the power of those disclaimers is inevitably going to be tested in a courtroom, with advocacy groups on both sides waging PR campaigns making their own cases to the public.

TechNewsWorld has a good piece on the potential legal ramifications of mobile apps and services. And while it’s US-centric, it’s a good summary of the key issues that are bound to come up in other markets as well.

Best to brush up on them now and be aware of the potential legal minefield on the horizon – not just in terms of determining the legal risks, but also the legal responsibilities that anyone looking to enter the medical services field should adhere to, rather than avoid. It’d be a shame to see the benefits of m-Health diluted by fear of lawsuits – or by unscrupulous parties looking to avoid responsibility for their own products and services.

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