Physician Telehealth Tips: Improve The Patient Experience
IN A NUTSHELL:
- COVID-19 has caused surge in telehealth use
- Telehealth likely to see continued use beyond COVID-19
- Physicians need to be mindful of lighting, clothing, and backdrops
There is a growing consensus in the medical community that the use of telehealth will continue after the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning physicians should be prepared now to provide an equatable patient experience.
Reports have shown that telehealth use is expected to increase by more than 64 percent nationwide this year due to the effects of COVID-19. Researchers predict that the pandemic will continue to reshape care delivery and open big opportunities for virtual care, with a sevenfold growth in telehealth during the next five years, according to the study, Telehealth: A Technology-Based Weapon in the War Against the Coronavirus 2020.
What it Means For Patients:
Telehealth is recognized as extraordinarily beneficial in areas where there is a lack of health care facilities, or access is restricted. This holds true for rural areas and urban areas alike even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers found that the use of telehealth technology helped reduce emergency room wait times for patients in rural hospitals by an average of six minutes. Another benefit of telehealth which emerged from the study found that the length of stay for patients that were seen by telehealth providers prior to hospital admission was an average of 22 minutes shorter. This is due to the fact that the patient was seen by the physician providing their care within the hospital setting, prior to physically being in the hospital.
Hospital capacity is more than ever at the center of attention with rising cases of COVID-19. Yet this application of telehealth technology will continue after the pandemic, as more patients seek avenues to reduce unnecessary emergency room visits and hospital stays. Telehealth also has the potential to expand access to more health care services which may not be accessible at a local facility.
What it Means For Physicians:
A physician needs minimal training to implement telehealth visits for their patients. In recent years, the integration of digital health tools has grown significantly among physicians. In addition to telehealth, an increasing number of health care providers have expressed interest in technologies that aid in remote monitoring, clinical decision support, patient engagement, workflow enhancement, and consumer access to clinical data.
However, the environment in which a physician conducts a telehealth consultation is crucial for patient engagement and satisfaction. Health care providers need to carefully consider the appearance of themselves and their “virtual exam room.” There is much more thought that needs to be put into the appointment than the environment for the consultation. As the health care industry evolves and adapts to consumer expectations, a complete patient experience must be created in the virtual world that is equatable to what would be expected from an in-person visit.
Certain behaviors that physicians may not even consider during an in-person visit could harm business in a telehealth consultation. This results in a poor experience for both the health care provider and their patient.
Often times, telehealth consultations can be perceived as less personal and less private than in-person visits. With that in mind, a physician must go the extra mile to try and show the same attentiveness they would in a physical exam room.
A physician is obligated to maintain the privacy and security of patient interactions during telehealth appointments in the same manner as they would during an in-person visit. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) establishes guidelines for electronic health transactions and the security of personal health information (PHI). The provider is responsible for ensuring the overall safety and security of telehealth encounters, including patient privacy and PHI data protection.
Creating The Patient Experience:
- First Impressions Matter:
As with any usage of a digital video conferencing technology, a person often fills up the entire screen. It is important that physicians make a concerted effort to demonstrate a pleasant visual presence. This goes beyond the physical appearance, which we will touch upon more in depth next—the “exam room” in which a physician conducts the appointment is also important. Physicians should make sure they are in a camera-friendly location that best serves both their reputation and the facility as a whole. The telehealth appointment should be conducted in the same room as where a regular patient exam would take place. However, it is important to be mindful of making sure the patient is focused on their health care provider. The patient can only see what is in frame of the camera, and therefore physicians should limit clutter in the background, angle the camera so that they are the primary point of focus and fill the majority, but not all, of the camera frame.
- Dress for success:
The clothing a physician wears can also have a noticeable effect on the quality of their virtual presence. Similar to a job interview, when dressing for a telehealth appointment, avoid excessively bright or dark colors. Take into consideration how the camera angle, lighting, and on-screen appearance will affect the appointment. The traditional white lab coat may look clean and professional in person, yet it can reflect the light and appear too bright on screen.
- Lights, Camera, Action:
If the lighting in a virtual exam room is dark, off-color, or even too bright, it could disrupt the patient experience. Physicians should make sure the room they are set up in is as welcoming as it could be in person. A dark or dimly lit telehealth setting could potentially have a negative effect on a patient’s interpretation of the assessment and diagnosis given.
Natural lighting works best for all skin tones. However natural lighting is not always abundant in most health care facilities. Physicians must ensure their lighting source is bright and not flickering. Another key to proper lighting is to not mix the types of light your sources emit.
- Do a test run:
What looks good in person doesn’t always translate well to video. Prior to conducting any telehealth appointments, do a test run with different lighting and camera positions.
While some of these concepts may seem frivolous, they all play an important role in the patient experience—the most critical aspect of a telehealth appointment.