Healthcare providers spend months of their education learning how to communicate with patients. Explaining complex medical terminology to the layperson isn’t easy, but more importantly, providers need to be able to cultivate trust from their patients, assuaging fears and developing comfort to ensure that patients have control over their own health.
Most bedside manner training is intended to help providers connect with patients in person, which means many providers are utterly unequipped to engage patients in a virtual space. Unfortunately, as telehealth has grown in popularity, many providers have become unable to maintain the level of trust and support they have cultivated with their patients because they lack appropriate “webside” manner.
Bedside manner is so critical to patient outcomes that it is essential for providers to properly engage their patients regardless of the medium of their appointments. Here are a few tips and tricks for improving webside manner and helping reconnect patients and providers in the digital age.
Introductions Are Important
The provider with the worst bedside manner would never walk into a room with a new patient and begin administering treatment — it goes against all ingrained social and cultural expectations. However, it doesn’t seem to be that uncommon for providers to begin telehealth appointments by jumping into a patient’s listed symptoms or health concerns.
Even in virtual health visits, providers need to introduce themselves. A good introduction includes the provider’s name, level of expertise (i.e. MD, physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner?), specialization (if any) and expectations for the appointment. That last bit will help the patient better understand what they virtual visits can provide, preventing dissatisfaction at the end of the appointment.
Empathy Is More Difficult to Display
It is much easier for a provider to give their full, undivided attention to a patient when they are the only two people in a room. Over video chat, on the other hand, providers can often look distracted or uninvested in the patient’s plight, which reduces the empathy they exude and also works to disengage the patient from the appointment. Good webside manner often entails over-performing when it comes to displaying empathy because subtler empathic behaviors are often missed in the virtual space.
There are two ways to boost the depiction of empathy: eye contact and body language. Instead of looking at their patient on the screen, providers should stare directly into their device’s camera, which improves the illusion that they are making eye contact with their remote patient. Next, providers should strive to look relaxed, comfortable and confident with their physical expressions. Smiling and laughing is much better than brow furrowing, and sitting upright and still is better than slumping, leaning in close or fidgeting.
Physical Environments Matter
A dirty exam room with shabby furniture doesn’t instill confidence in a patient. Likewise, patients aren’t liable to immediately trust a telehealth provider calling from a dark, grimy office. Providers should set up a bright, clean and well-decorated telehealth conference space free from distractions.
Technology Impacts the Appointment
Just as one’s physical surroundings can impact the success of a telehealth appointment, so too can one’s technology. Providers need to invest in a reliable internet service with sufficient bandwidth to ensure stable, high-quality video calling. It is also advisable to utilize an external webcam and microphone, which make it easier for patients to see and understand providers.
Finally, providers should consider relying on a highly rated telehealth platform, like https://everydaydoctor.com/. Different platforms offer differing levels of user-friendliness, and services that aren’t easy for patients to navigate aren’t going to facilitate successful appointments. Everyday Doctor and other intuitive telehealth solutions are advantageous, so providers should search out these options.
Providers Should Follow up to Develop a Relationship
Most telehealth patients use virtual visits as a quick solution to a minor health issue, and many don’t expect to interact with their digital providers ever again. However, following up with a patient after an appointment is imperative for ensuring positive health outcomes, so providers should always reach out to their patients after a telehealth appointment to better understand the effects of any medications, treatments or testing. In some cases, following up in this way will help providers develop stronger relationships with their patients, who will likely continue to make telehealth appointments with these providers into the future.
Just because bedside manner came naturally doesn’t mean webside manner does. Providers need to actively practice engaging their patients in digital spaces — not only because more patients today are opting for remote health appointments but because telehealth is only going to increase in prevalence over the coming years.