How Good is Your Webside Manner?

By Dean Smith, MD, CMIO, GlobalMed
Twitter: @GlobalMed_USA

Lately we’ve talked a lot about patient enthusiasm for telemedicine. A new Deloitte report supports that finding, with 57 percent of respondents reporting an interest in telemedicine and virtual health tools. But the survey contained some bad news as well. Many patients who’ve had virtual visits report problems with the provider’s bedside manner – or as we call it in the telemedicine world, their webside manner.

Specifically, these patients said their telehealth providers didn’t seem as knowledgeable or professional as in-person providers. Only one-third felt they received enough information during their virtual care visit. The Deloitte report’s conclusion: clinicians need more training to bridge the differences between a telemedicine visit and an office visit.

That isn’t surprising, given that patients complain about lackluster communication even in traditional delivery channels. One recent study showed providers interrupt patients after an average of 11 seconds in an exam room. Given that both patients and providers are still getting accustomed to digital medical communication, it’s clear that both may need some assistance in making the most of a virtual visit.

Putting the Connection in Connected Care
Skilled clinicians use specific techniques to cultivate a stronger bond with remote patients. By focusing on two areas – interaction and the environment – providers have been able to drive more effective visits and positive care outcomes. Here’s their advice.

  1. Build a good rapport with the patient.
    If it’s a first visit with the patient, make sure they’re comfortable using digital tools. Patients are often aware of cybercrime, so it’s always a good idea to reassure them their data is secure.Conveying empathy and attention is critical, so watch the patient’s body language and continue the dialogue even while checking your notes. A few moments of silence may not be alienating in an office visit, but dead air can sever the patient’s sense of connection during a virtual visit. Finally, be aware that there’s no “doorknob moment” in telemedicine, where a patient may blurt out a final concern right as the provider leaves the exam room. Once you hang up, the conversation is over. So before you end the visit, verify that the patient has asked all of their questions and is clear on your recommendations.
  2. Create a telefriendly exam room.
    The Hospital Lighting Standards stated in IESNA require at least 50 lumens of light, which should be the same standard in your virtual exam room. A standard 110v AC power supply should be available to power the station and charge any batteries, while a standard ethernet port for a LAN (local area network) connection can provide networking capabilities when a wireless connection isn’t available.When setting up your telemedicine station or video conferencing solution, check that the area is clear of equipment and obstructions, such as surgical lights, monitoring systems, ultrasound machines or other large devices. Provider clothing and room backgrounds matter too; solid light colors such as neutral tones or lighter shades of blue work best, while dark colors or patterns, including stripes, polka dots or checkered, can seem dour or distracting on video.

Building Patient Relationships for Tomorrow
Optimal outcomes begin with valuable physician-patient interactions. A clear and candid dialogue means the patient is more likely to share symptoms, understand treatment plans and follow recommendations. It also means the patient is more likely to continue the therapeutic relationship. As healthcare delivery continues to merge with technology, developing a new communication style today can mean building the long-term patient relationships of tomorrow.

This article was originally published on GlobalMed and is republished here with permission.