Telemedicine: How to handle seamy virtual visitors

There’s a new problem for unsuspecting physicians who practice telemedicine: Some virtual visitors are sending them inappropriate images. 

Many of the largest telemedicine apps that allow patients to schedule a video visit with a physician—especially those that offer free trials—have encountered inappropriate behavior and unseemly videos and photos from users, according to CNBC. 

It's happening at the same time that about a third of healthcare providers are using video-based virtual visits, with more likely to jump on board, according to a survey by KPMG.

Venture-backed mobile apps, including MDLive and Doctor on Demand, have experienced the problem and are taking steps to stop the inappropriate behavior. But it's hard to block individuals if they use false information, Ian Tong, Doctor on Demand’s chief medical officer, told CNBC.

The company has cancelled accounts of known offenders and tried to connect the individuals with mental health support when possible. It also stopped marketing campaigns that offered free trials.

In some ways it’s no different than how doctors deal with problem patients in an office setting, said Roy Schoenberg, CEO of American Well, a Boston-based app company that provides virtual visits. The company shut off the user’s login and verified the ID through credit card authorization, so the individual cannot use the service again.

Another wrinkle: If users share medical information or if a doctor advises the person to seek mental health services, the interaction may be protected under HIPAA privacy laws.