Improving telemedicine bedside manner: Tips for healthcare providers

Alongside technologies such as electronic medical records software and practice management systems, telemedicine has had a notable impact on the healthcare industry, helping to connect patients in rural and underserved areas and communities without  healthcare providers, to ensure that more people receive access to quality care. And there are many signs that telemedicine is continuing to grow in popularity and adoption. For example, a study into the state of the global telehealth industry by IHS Markit found that, by next year, the sector could be worth around $4.5 billion, with roughly 7 million patients expected to connect with healthcare providers virtually.

The importance of a good "desktop manner"
Given that the number of patients seeking care via platforms such as video conferencing and instant messaging is growing, physicians nationwide are now facing a new kind of challenge - how to deliver an impeccable bedside manner, digitally.

An article from mHealth Intelligence included a quote from telehealth provider CEO, Randy Parker, who explained that a so-called "desktop manner" can differ somewhat from conventional bedside manner.

"You can be a great physician and not be a great telemedicine physician," he explained. "You need a 'desktop manner.' It's a different level of skill that you never learned in medical school."

So what exactly goes in to forming a proficient desktop manner? Here is a guide of some quick tips to help healthcare providers refine their skills in this increasingly important area.

1. Increase enthusiasm
As explained by Telemedicine Magazine, communicating virtually, especially over video conferencing, can, for many, feel slightly more awkward than communicating in person. This is likely because the distance can be felt, and the fact that internet connections are not always perfect can add to the difficulty. A way to overcome this, Telemedicine Magazine explained, citing experts who have written on the topic, is for healthcare providers to pay extra attention to their body language and demeanor. Over telemedicine it is helpful for providers to perhaps be a little more enthusiastic and smiley than normal. This may help put patients at ease and create a greater level of intimacy that telemedicine may otherwise undermine, simply due to the fact that it is not an in-person meeting.

2. Make an introduction
Unless the telemedicine consultation is taking place between a physician and patient who have met before, it is important for the provider to open the consultation with a formal introduction. As detailed by mHealth Intelligence, the introduction should include a description of the kind of work the professional does, and his or her name. For example, "My name is Dr. Jones and I work as a family physician. How can I help you today?" is a sign of a clear and effective introduction. The introduction is important as it marks the first stage in establishing a strong connection with the patient.

3. Ensure the setting is just right
While body language and introductions are very important, healthcare providers shouldn't overlook the more practical elements of telemedicine, Telemedicine Magazine maintained. The first step, of course, is to make sure that the internet connection is strong and the risk of delays or other problems minimal. Secondly, providers should ensure that there is enough light and that patients can see them clearly on the other end. Telemedicine Magazine also stressed that background noise can be a major barrier to communication, so providers are encouraged to wear headsets, which can help curtail this distraction. 

4. Allow the patient to speak
It may seem simple, but as reported by mHealth Intelligence, research has shown that it is common for physicians to interject or cut patients off when they are articulating their health concerns. This is common during in-person visits but it can add even more strain or awkwardness when the conversation is conducted remotely. Providers are encouraged to wait until the patients has finished speaking before offering an opinion or making a diagnosis. 

5. Look presentable
Although telemedicine is a much more convenient approach to medicine, for both providers and patients alike, that doesn't mean that providers should let the little things slip, such as appearance and setting. As pointed out by Modern Healthcare, if a professional provides care in an office or room that is clearly in disarray, and if they are not dressed in a professional manner, it can leave patients feeling uneasy and reticent to use telemedicine services in the future. 

University of Arizona professor, Elizabeth Krupinski, was interviewed by the publication, wherein she elaborated on the above point. 

"When you're conducting a videoconference with a patient, it's not the same thing as getting up Saturday morning, going on FaceTime and talking to your best buddy," she asserted. "It's not that simple."

By following these simple strategies, healthcare providers can improve their desktop manner, helping to ensure that patients will continue using telemedicine services in the future.

Kevin McCarthy's picture

Kevin McCarthy

Industry News Editor

An avid traveler and news junkie, Kevin covers a range of topics from healthcare technology to policy and regulations. As a former journalism student, he enjoys finding stories relevant to small practices and is passionate about keeping them informed. Before joining NueMD, Kevin worked for Turner Broadcasting as a Programming Intern where he conducted legal research and contributed to editorial content development. He received his bachelor's degree in Communication from Kennesaw State University and currently serves as the Industry News Editor at NueMD.

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