How to Have Positive Telehealth Experiences With Patients
May 4, 2020
by Nick Jaworski, Digital Community Builder of Circle Social, Inc.
As the coronavirus continues to spread and threaten lives across the country, more Americans are communicating with their doctors electronically than ever before. The healthcare industry is quickly tipping to more digital formats, with telehealthcare access becoming all the more common for patients with low-acuity health needs. But, as more patients and providers hop onto the technology, it will be important to understand the communication strategies best equipped to deliver a positive patient experience.
Telehealth is not a new healthcare technology. For years, providers have touted the tool as key for bridging geographic care disparities, supporting patients accessing mental health treatment, or helping busy parents get their children treatment in between busy schedules.
But for all that time, full adoption of direct-to-consumer telehealth has been indifferent. Despite some interest, patients didn’t always know how telehealth worked, had concerns about care quality, and even if they were aware of such service, many insurance providers wouldn’t cover it.
Those concerns are falling by the wayside, and quickly. As the nation grapples with the spread of the coronavirus, telehealth is stepping in as a key means for maintaining patient access to care. The insurance barrier has also disappeared as plans open up reimbursement for telehealth services.
The Importance of Telehealth for Patients
Primarily, the tool provides an avenue for patients to receive care without exposing them or their providers to the highly contagious virus. This is important for low-risk patients experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, as well as those who still need access to mental health or chronic disease management.
But as new patients and providers flock to the technology, questions about patient experience naturally arise. Will these patients, who may be largely unfamiliar with telehealth, be satisfied with their treatment?
Medical professionals utilizing telehealth may consider reviewing communication best practices for telehealth technology. This tool introduces new challenges to the patient-provider relationship, and although those hurdles are not insurmountable, they will require a shift in communication strategies.
"Developing your screen-side manners in today’s telehealth world is just as essential as developing good bedside manners," according to Melanie Esher-Blair, MAdm of the Arizona Telehealth Program. "Patients still need to feel they are being heard and understood by their provider whether in-person or via video connection."
- Give the patient your undivided attention. It is easier to forget during video conferencing that the patient is watching and interpreting your body language. Remember that 70% of all communication is non-verbal. Take limited notes during the conversation. Writing or entering data in the EMR (electronic medical record) during conversations is perceived as multitasking and not interpreted by patients as being thorough. Be aware of your facial expressions. Since the patient cannot see your body positioning, he/she will be watching you even more closely than if you were in the same room. Your facial expressions can either be interpreted as compassionate, disinterested, or rushed. The perception of eye contact can be felt even through video.
- Remember that each interaction with a patient is a conversation and not an interview. Don’t interrupt or ask follow up questions before the patient has finished speaking. Patients are even more sensitive to the feeling of being rushed during telemedicine. It is very important to let them feel that even though you may not be in the same room, they are the most important person to you at that moment.
- Be a genuine person. Although healthcare professionals will often be video conferencing with patients they have never met before, there is still an opportunity to form a trusting relationship in a short period of time. Today’s patient wants to interact with their healthcare professional on a personal level. Avoid the "all business" attitude. Relate on a personal level. Ask the patient where they are from and find a common interest if possible to help form that relationship.
By all accounts, telemedicine will play a large role in the future of healthcare. It has the potential for dramatic cost reduction, increases in healthcare accessibility, and improved patient satisfaction. It should not be a replacement for the strong relationship between a patient and his/her healthcare provider as that is critical to any healthcare visit. By learning proper techniques in compassionate communication, healthcare providers can build relationships even through video conferencing.
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