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Bedside manner for telehealth requires a whole new skill set from doctors and caregivers. Learn what to do now that telehealth has become mainstream.
Many of the core principles you practice with good bedside manner will also apply to your "webside" manner—being empathetic, practicing active listening, offering reassurance, and so on. However, there are some important nuances you will need to consider when working in a telehealth setting.
Like in your exam room, you want your space set up for efficiency and with a focus on your patient. You want the environment to be welcoming and calming even though you are not physically together. Here are a few tips to consider when preparing for a telehealth visit:
Prior to starting your telehealth visit, check the positioning of your camera. Framing your camera just right will help your engagement with the patient during the visit.
Make sure you have fully tested your telehealth equipment before you start any visits. If telehealth is new to your practice, do a couple practice runs with your team to make sure everyone is comfortable with the technology before you go live. Make sure your connection to the internet is adequate to conduct video visits. Video visits can use a lot of bandwidth, so close any other applications on your computer to improve video quality. This will also help to limit any other distractions that might pop up during the call. Check your camera position, speakers, and microphones to ensure they are all working before the visit starts.
When a patient visits your healthcare clinic, the expectation is the exam room with be a calm, quiet, and private location. The same expectation applies to a virtual visit.
To improve your bedside manner for telehealth, make sure you conduct your telehealth visits in a private, quiet, and interruption-free space. This is not only important for a good visit outcome, but it also ensures the privacy of your patient—HIPAA privacy rules apply. Whether in your office or at your home, set up a space dedicated to telehealth where staff, spouses, children, or animals can’t interrupt you. Hang a sign on your door that says telehealth session in progress.
The same rules apply to your technology. Make sure all your notifications on your laptop, tablet, or mobile device are set to silent or do not disturb.
The ideal backdrop is a clean, clutter free space. You don’t want stacks of papers, dirty dishes, empty cans, or bottles filling your background. This can be distracting to your patient and interfere with your ability to connect and treat them. Go with a light or neutral background for the best picture quality.
You wouldn’t show up for an in-person visit in your sweats, so don't for your virtual visit. The same dress code standards should apply regardless of the type of visit. The camera can be unforgiving, so make sure you take a quick look in the mirror before the telemedicine visit starts. This will help you avoid any awkward moments like spinach in your teeth or a cowlick sticking up from your hair.
Now that you adequately prepared for the visit, you are ready to connect with your patient. When conducting your visit here are a few things to consider.
Introduce yourself – Just like you would for an in-person visit, take a minute to review the patient details before you “open the door” for the virtual visit. Start with a greeting to introduce yourself. Make sure you are smiling and give the patient a wave. Start with an ice breaker question like “How is your day going?” These small gestures will help the patient relax and feel welcomed getting your appointment off to a great start.
Set expectations for the visit – After your introductions, you want to set the expectation for the visit. This is a two-way street that helps ensure a positive webside manner. First, allow the patient to speak and detail their goals for the telehealth visit. Take notes to make sure you address all their concerns. Next, articulate any additional goals you may have for the appointment. Now that you are both on the same page, you can stay focused on achieving those goals.
Focus on the camera – Keep your focus on the patient for the entire visit. This can be difficult if you are not using an integrated telehealth solution that allows you to view your clinical notes while maintaining eye contact with your patient. If you are using two screens, make sure you explain to your patient that you might look at your other screen to document the patient complaints fully. This will let them know that you are still engaged and actively listening even if your eyes are focused on another area.
Watch your body language – Body language is just as important during a virtual visit as it is for an in-person visit. Make sure you are nodding to show understanding of what the patient is telling you. Lean into your screen to show engagement. Use your hands to reinforce points, but don’t fidget to the point of distraction.
Make sure you observe the patient’s body language as well for cues that they are holding back or are uncomfortable. Verbal cues like “I sense some hesitancy; can we talk about that?” can help your patient relax and open up.
Practice active listening – Active listening is more challenging when you are in a virtual environment. It is easy to get distracted by other factors like office activity or email alerts on your computer. To help you stay focused on the patient, make it a goal to always summarize what you heard from them. It reinforces to them that you are paying attention and allows you to take more comprehensive notes.
Summarize the visit and next steps – Prior to ending the call make sure you summarize the visit outcomes. Repeat any instructions you have given the patient, so they fully understand them, discuss next steps such as follow up visits or referrals, and make sure you leave time to answer any patient questions.
After the visit make sure you are sending the patient a post-visit summary that recaps your takeaways and actions items via your patient portal. Clearly outline any patient actions such as booking another appointment, picking up a prescription, or monitoring the progression of symptoms.
If you are accustomed to doing patient surveys post visit, make sure you have one for your telehealth visits too. Surveys can provide excellent insights into how your practice is doing and where improvements might be needed.
Telehealth fills a critical need for care delivery when face-to-face visits are not possible (or not entirely necessary). All indicators point to telehealth sticking around. By following some basic tips and tricks to enhance your webside manner, telemedicine can help you accelerate practice growth and meet patient needs well beyond the pandemic.