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Just like texting, communication can get lost in translation when not in person. It’s easy to take for granted the complexities of subtle body language and eye contact. So, how do you maintain positive patient interactions when communicating through technology?
By keeping a few webside manner best practices in mind, you can continue to establish positive connections with your patients - even when they are remote.
Webside manner is the virtual equivalent of a clinician’s bedside manner - or the way in which you interact with a patient. Whether communicating through text, patient portal, phone, or video, it’s important to remember how bedside manner carries over (or doesn’t) through technology. Sometimes, adjustments in communication style need to be made in order to achieve the best rapport and message clarity.
Studies show that good bedside manner has a positive effect on patient health outcomes and that poor bedside manner is the most often cited patient complaint - more than customer service and even medical proficiency. It’s easy to overlook in telemedicine, but practicing positive bedside manner is more important than ever to maintain the physician-patient connection across distance.
Step 1. Introduce yourself. It’s likely that you will have never met your telemedicine patients before. Greeting the patient with your name, your role, and a smile will go a long way in making a good first impression.
Step 2. Set expectations and “check in” with the patient. **This might be your patient’s first experience with telemedicine. Let them know what to expect, and ask them if they can see and hear you ok. It sounds simple and can be easy to forget, but taking a moment to check in at the beginning of every call ensures you are both set up properly and helps make the patient comfortable.
Step 3. Neatly wrap the call. Reiterate next steps, review the treatment plan, and be sure to leave time for questions just as you would at the end of an in-person visit. This way the patient feels they got enough time with you, even if the visit may be shorter than a traditional office consultation.
The core principles of good bedside manner also apply to webside manner: ask open-ended questions, practice empathy, be honest, be respectful, and offer reassurance. But when communicating with patients via video technology, there are a few adjustments to consider. Follow these 11 tips to a better telemedicine presence:
Focus on the camera
Video consults can still allow for pseudo “eye-contact.” But in order to actually achieve the feeling, you need to look at your computer’s camera. Truthfully, this takes practice. Train yourself to glance at the camera every once in a while rather than focusing on the patient’s eyes on your monitor. Otherwise, your patient will get the sense you are looking down at their chin or chest.
Use positive body language
Nod your head to acknowledge understanding. Maintain an open chest and lean forward in interest rather than adopting defensive postures like crossing your arms or leaning back. Take your mom’s advice and sit up straight. These subtle adjustments can make a world of difference in how you come across on camera.
Watch your hands
Hands can be used to emphasize, but lots of hand motions can be distracting. And depending on your camera’s frame of view, your hand motions may be cut off. Don’t be remembered as the flailing guy.
Avoid tapping, fidgeting, or holding props
Some people naturally doodle, click a pen, or simply like to hold something while on the phone. This can be distracting to a patient, especially if your computer’s microphone is sensitive and can pick up subtle room noises. Even unconsciously tapping your foot on the floor could cause background noise.
You know those people who pace while on the phone? That’s not going to fly with a telemedicine video call. Remember that with video consults, the camera is focused on a much smaller frame than in an in-person visit. So, minor movements like rocking back and forth can seem exaggerated. Once again, heed your mother’s advice and sit still.
Practice intentional listening
It can be easy to zone out when you anticipate what’s coming. If you are seeing your tenth flu patient of the week, you may predict their next question or start daydreaming when the patient rattles off familiar symptoms. To counteract your brain’s urge to wander, listen with the intent to paraphrase and use your own words to repeat back what you hear the patient say. Be sure the patient feels like you clearly understood them and their situation.
Consider your environment
Think about where you will take your telemedicine call, what’s in view of the camera, and whether it’s private. Aim for a neutral backdrop of a plain wall or bookshelf, don’t sit with a window behind you that can cast weird shadows, and be sure you can close yourself off to background noise or interruptions. To create the best experience for you and your patients, read more tips on how to set up your telemedicine home office
Present yourself professionally
It can be tempting to roll out of bed and start taking telemedicine calls in your college hoodie, but you’ll be forsaking credibility for comfort. No need for a lab coat, but put on some professional attire (at least from the waist up!) so patients get a good impression.
Avoid abbreviations and medical jargon. It’s easy to slip into “doctor-speak”, but remember you aren’t in person to explain what you mean, and patients may be more hesitant to ask clarifying questions over the phone.
Use your computer just for the call
Since you are sitting at a computer, it can be tempting to use your device in the moment. If possible, wait until after hanging up to record your notes, or use a pen and paper to document. If you need to look something up or review medical records, tell the patient what you are doing and ask them to please wait one moment.
Try not to eat or drink
Holding off on a bite of bagel sandwich might be obvious, but even a sip of water could be distracting on a video call. If you’re close to the camera your water cup could take up a big part of the screen as you drink, and microphones can make your sip sound more like a slurp. If you need to quench your thirst, do it quickly and to the side of the camera if possible.
If you’re worried about establishing the same patient connection through a digital interface, don’t be. In fact, some telemedicine providers feel they get on better with their virtual patients. Remember that ultimately, patients just want to be heard and understood.
By focusing on listening and making a few modifications to your communication style, your webside manner will enhance your telemedicine consults and make your patients feel at ease.