The internet has added ease and convenience to many aspects of our lives, and one of our favorites is the introduction of telehealth. Successful telehealth makes healthcare more accessible to more people, overcoming obstacles like distance, availability of transportation, fear of nosocomial exposure, and physical limitations.
What Is Telehealth?
To clarify, telehealth, sometimes called telemedicine, is the practice of receiving care from a medical provider without the patient coming into a healthcare facility for treatment. Sessions can be conducted over a telephone call or via video conference. Telehealth has been utilized successfully for many years, but the COVID-19 pandemic and its enforced quarantine normalized the practice significantly.
Establishing a Successful Telehealth Session
The success of a telehealth session is the responsibility of both patient and provider, perhaps even more so than for in-person medical visits. In order to have a successful telehealth session, there are steps that must be taken both during the session and before it even begins.
The best thing to do before scheduling a telehealth appointment is to call in for telephone triage. This allows a triage nurse to determine whether a telehealth session is necessary, if remedies can be addressed at home, or if a patient should seek in-person treatment.
Before the Appointment
The foundation for successful telehealth is laid long before the session begins, and this is true on both sides of the call. When the appointment is set, healthcare providers must let patients know what to expect from the telehealth venue, especially how billing will work. This helps avoid unpleasant surprises further down the line.
Set the Stage
Because telehealth sessions break the normal format of meeting in an observation room for diagnosis, both practice and patient must prioritize establishing their own spaces that will allow successful diagnosis and treatment to take place. Find a room with good lighting that is quiet where you can maintain privacy and confidentiality.
Remove from the room things that have the potential to be distracting on a video call, things like posters, knick knacks, children, and pets. You may choose to use headphones while on the call to minimize background noise.
Healthcare facilities should consider offering multiple platforms for sessions. This certainly includes the choice between phone and video call, but it can also extend to a number of video chat providers, including Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, and clinic-specific platforms.
It is absolutely essential for both parties to have secure internet connections before a call begins, otherwise the risk of the call dropping or cutting out during important information is high. Limit the other use of the internet while a call is in progress. Using quality equipment (a good camera and sound system) will only improve the quality of the session.
Have a Plan
Both patient and provider need to adequately prepare for the meat of the session. We are by no means recommending having a script—a successful telehealth session is always a dialogue—but come prepared with questions and information that will be valuable to diagnosis and treatment.
Patients can also help their physician come to conclusion more accurately and quickly by having relevant medical information at the ready. This includes lists of current and past medications, symptoms, and vital signs taken within the last 24 hours (blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, and weight).
During the Appointment
Keep It Legal
At the beginning of a telehealth appointment, medical staff should let patients know what to expect. This includes explaining the process thoroughly and helping them understand their right to stop the session at any time. Preparing the patient also means that consent must be properly documented.
Throughout the session, healthcare providers must follow protocol to the letter. This ensures legal and ethical uprightness and that quality care is given. It is up to both patient and provider to maintain the patient’s privacy and confidentiality throughout the session. If other medical staff or practitioners are present during a session, the patient must be notified.
Successful Web-Side Manner Leads to Successful Telehealth
While the standards of kindness, professionalism, and patience are still applicable in a telehealth session, other parts of a good “web-side manner” may be less obvious. For one thing, both parties should be mindful of what they wear.
Patterns and designs on clothing can translate differently on screen, appearing to move in a distracting manner. Wear solids to avoid this. Medical staff should also consider wearing lab coats to emphasize the professionalism of a call not performed in a professional setting.
Both parties should remain professional and engaged during the session. This includes keeping level tones and maintaining eye contact, which can be difficult when the screen and the camera are in different locations. Both parties should be free to follow their lists of questions to make sure they are covered.
Medical staff should take notes and let the patient know they are doing so. This is especially important since notepads are often below the camera’s view, and you do not want the patient to feel you are not paying attention. At the end of a successful telehealth session, make follow-up plans so both parties know what to expect moving forward.