Since COVID-19, many people have had several doctor’s appointments without ever setting foot in an office. People now communicate with clinicians via electronic means whether that include phone or video.
This new wave of communication is known as telemedicine.
Telemedicine allows for patients and clinicians to adhere to social distancing practices. It also provides a convenient way for clinicians to meet regularly with clients. It’s suitable for both parties as clinicians can work from home and clients don’t have to commute to the appointment.
Other additional benefits of telemedicine for the patient include not taking time off work, paying for child care and greater access to specialists in other cities.
Accordingly, telemedicine will not fade away any time soon. It’s just too convenient of an option.
Many careers within health care have switched to or started offering telehealth services in response to advancing technology.
It saves on costs and helps enrich patient experience, among other things.
In this blog, we will dive into some of the best practices for telehealth professionals.
Specifically, we will cover:
- Investing in the proper technology
- Checking your technology beforehand
- Having a dedicated appointment space
- Working on-screen side manner
- Having a backup plan
- Being flexible
Invest in the Proper Technology
To conduct a successful telemedicine appointment, providers need to have reliable technology. This gets the ball rolling as it’s imperative to have the tools in place to get a telemedicine appointment started.
The three things that clinicians or nurses need when practicing telemedicine include internet connection, video platform and technology support.
Fundamental to telemedicine is a secure broadband connection. The internet connection’s size and speed affect the video quality, volume and velocity of data transfer. You don’t want your video to lag when you are trying to communicate important information to patients. Ideally, your broadband connection should range from 50-100 Mbps (Megabits/sec).
Having the right video platform to conduct your meeting is the next step. The video platform you choose must be accessible for the patient. For younger patients, Zoom often works. However, older patients may prefer and only know how to use FaceTime. You have to meet your patients where they are.
Technical support is another critical component of telemedicine. Clinicians need to have someone virtually or in-person who can troubleshoot issues that arise with the software. Many software or hardware problems can come up when dealing with telemedicine and you don’t want these to interfere with a smooth session.
There are a few technological innovations for clinicians providing telehealth services.
Remote Patient Monitoring:
Some facilities have created programs that monitor patients’ blood pressure, pulse, weight and oxygen saturation within their homes daily. These programs tailor specifically toward people who have chronic illnesses like diabetes. They help decrease the chances for re-admission.
There’s a new online platform called PatientsLikeMe, where patients with chronic illnesses get personalized learning and support. Patients enter in their information and the site creates graphs that represent their disease course.
Furthermore, patients can connect with other people who take similar medications, share symptoms and have lived with the disease for an equal amount of time.
Technology has made telemedicine more efficient over the years. Patients often feel more connected with the expanded access they have with telemedicine.
Check Your Technology Beforehand
Before you start the day as a telemedicine provider, it’s key to check your technology. You don’t want to start work only to lapse when it’s time to help a patient. To counter this, do a trial run with a colleague, friend or family member to ensure that everything is working correctly.
If you find issues, you can correct them before beginning with a patient.
Have a Dedicated Appointment Space
Having an appointment space that’s consistent and safe for the patient can’t go overstated. You want your patient to feel like your area mimics an office space. You don’t want to have the appointment by your pool or in your living room with the TV going, for example.
Also, make sure that you don’t have distractions.
Moreover, having a dedicated space—such as an office—can help create a sense of work-life balance is critical during COVID-19. You need to have a sense of separation between where you work and where you relax.
Work on Your Screen Side Manner
Though you now communicate digitally with patients, it’s critical to provide sound screen side manners to your patients. This can go a long way toward helping a patient feel heard and seen.
Often, initially engaging in small talk with patients helps establish a level of trust and comfort. You can ask them how their day went or what they have planned for the weekend. Establishing a rapport and connection is essential, especially since you aren’t meeting in-person.
Next, make sure that you are enunciating your words. Also, try and practice being precise and limit medical jargon.
Non-verbally, it’s essential to provide non-verbal cues such as head nodding and leaning forward to affirm the patient. Also, maintain eye contact with the patient while talking.
Have a Backup Plan
As much as you’d like to control life, things happen. Computers crash. The internet goes out. However, if you have backup plans in place, it can mitigate the inevitable damage.
For example, if you are using Zoom and it begins acting up or lagging, you can create a plan to switch over to a phone call while trying and getting it back working.
Also, make sure that you have the IT person’s number ready in case something occurs.
Last, you can also have the video application downloaded onto your phone in case of an issue.
One of the primary benefits of telehealth is flexibility. It’s easier to coordinate schedules when you remove commuting and office wait times. Patients also don’t have to take off work to accommodate an appointment.
Now, despite the flexibility, it’s essential as a provider to put up appropriate boundaries. Inherently, patients or providers might assume a more casual air. Also, because the provider and client can communicate via email, instant chat and video conferencing, there’s a risk that the communication could happen at any time.
Additionally, since providers can virtually work anywhere at any time, they may decide to conduct a session at a coffee shop, which could violate HIPAA.
The best practices for having appropriate boundaries involve establishing shared expectations, providing details for accessing the telehealth appointment and maintaining a structured schedule.
As a practitioner, you can have the patient sign a telehealth consent form that addresses the patient’s rights and responsibilities for using the service. Make sure you convey that the patient or clinician can terminate the visit at any time.
Regarding the details of the telehealth appointment, provide the name and number of the technical contact for concerns.
Last, only provide services during regular business hours. Try and start and end the sessions within the agreed-upon times. Make sure you have the right balance between personal and professional time.
Overall, telemedicine has gained significant relevance with the pandemic. However, it’s not a temporary fix. The benefits of telehealth—flexibility, cost and patient satisfaction—make it easy to imagine more and more health care providers figuring out ways to keep it around.