Understanding the Legal Risks of Remote, Traveling and Telehealth Hires

Senior Director of Marketing

Healthcare providers have been filling gaps in coverage with a combination of remote, traveling and telehealth workers. While such an approach can be effective, healthcare facilities should regularly evaluate the legal considerations.

“The organization where the hired employee ultimately works will always be primarily accountable for any procedures or regulations related to their hiring and working. This includes the all-important step of background screening,” says Riley Beam, Managing Attorney at Douglas R. Beam, P.A.

Explore the legal and liability considerations healthcare providers should assess for each worker category.

Remote Healthcare Workers

Remote work offers flexibility and a bigger labor pool for healthcare providers, but organizations must monitor information security, especially regarding patient confidentiality and potential HIPAA violations.

2021 was the worst year to date for healthcare data breaches, according to HIPAA Journal analysis of federal data. More than 700 major data breaches, meaning breaches where 500 or more records were affected, were reported that year.

Hacking and IT incidents have been the leading cause of healthcare data breaches in recent years. However, remote workers can be the source of breaches when they use unsecured devices or networks or mishandle records, especially paper files.

“As sensitive information leaves a hospital or medical office, remote employees are responsible for ensuring the information stays confidential. This is harder to oversee in a remote environment,” says Francoise M. Haasch, Founding Attorney at Fran Haasch Law Group 

Traveling Nurses

Traveling nurses have been a valuable resource for healthcare providers in recent years. But providers must ensure such staffing doesn’t sacrifice continuity of care or patient satisfaction.

Healthcare organizations also take on increased risk in vetting travel nurses’ qualifications, skills and training. Remember that traveling nurses are subject to the same standard of care as any other nurse.

Managing these considerations is more complex when hiring nurses from one state to practice in another. Under the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC), traveling nurses can practice in NLC states without obtaining additional licenses.

“A traveling worker must be familiarized with all regulations and expectations to avoid ruining the standard of patient care,” Haasch says. In addition, healthcare providers need to make sure they provide proper screening and training.

Telehealth Providers

Telehealth visits have become popular for patients looking to reduce personal risk while obtaining timely medical advice, but there are risks to account for. The limits of video and audio technology can complicate diagnosis, for example.

“My perspective is that the standard of care for telehealth providers and regular doctors in a hospital system or in an office setting is the same, because you’re expected to engage in responsible medicine. So, it just depends on what the problem is and whether or not telehealth is appropriate,” says Nadia de la Houssaye, Partner and Co-Chair of the Healthcare Litigation Team at Jones Walker LLP.

Providers should ensure they follow federal and state regulations for telehealth licensing and cross-state practice. Background checks should be standard for all telehealth practitioners, especially for assessing credentials, loss of license or significant malpractice judgments.

Due Diligence Is a Responsibility

The best way for healthcare providers to provide proper staffing while avoiding legal risks with remote, traveling and telehealth workers is to be proactive. Patient care and staffing are priorities, but that doesn’t mean providers should cut corners in their staffing procedures.

“You’ve got to do your due diligence, no matter what,” Houssaye says. “When you provide care to a patient, you have to make sure that that patient is being cared for by a responsible party.”