While most healthcare practitioners today will agree that telehealth services can be helpful, most are still unclear about the video-related factors that can help or hinder video relationships with their patients and clients through telehealth visits. The simple steps below can help to strengthen telehealth telepresence to ensure patient satisfaction.
Building a Video Relationship – the Obstacles
Clinicians of various types have been trained to use their eyes, ears, and hands in medical circles to assess the client/patient for diagnosis and treatment planning purposes. For many healthcare workers, telehealth consultations strip them of their previously-mastered diagnostic skills.
Telepresence & Empathy
Many also believe that cameras, microphones, and screens can deprive them of the power of an empathic connection. A recently released survey titled Clinician of the Future: a 2022 report reported that 51% of healthcare practitioners surveyed believe that they will not be able to demonstrate empathy towards their patients when using telehealth.
Basic Technology for Professionals
Another barrier is managing technology when it doesn’t respond as expected. In a survey, 61.3% of the clinicians describe a lack of digital literacy (61.3 %) as one of the top barriers when working through telehealth. Healthcare workers often report anxiety about their inability to manage basic technology skills smoothly or to fully anticipate and mitigate the problems their clients or patients may experience. Complaints about the lack of digital literacy are a common issue that seems to negatively impact provider and patient satisfaction in many of the research articles reported since 2019.
Managing Telepresence & Digital Literacy Obstacles
Telepresence training is necessary to boost clinicians’ confidence and help them effectively connect with their patients over video screens. Without training, healthcare workers may feel uneasy about the video relationship they build with their clients. Training can provide technological know-how to create an open, welcoming, and empathetic remote environment.
How to Strengthen Video Relationships for Good Telepresence
The single most damaging factor that can interfere with your video relationships is the pretense of being in command when you are not. Your patients and clients are also more likely to offer honest feedback if you take your blunders in stride, accepting them as part of the learning curve rather than pretending that you know what you are doing…especially if you do not. Once you cultivate an attitude of humility about your telepresence, you will be more confident about building and maintaining your video relationships.
Learning to chuckle at one’s mistakes combined with persistence is likely to strengthen the therapeutic relationship more than cursing under one’s breath, abandoning efforts to use simple functions, or unilaterally deciding that problems cannot be solved. For example, a clinician recently reported in a training course at Telehealth.org dismay with her primary care provider, who refused to tilt his screen so she could see more than the doctor’s eyes and forehead. She explained that the physician appeared in the lower two inches of her video screen, with the doctor’s rotating ceiling fan occupying the entire rest of the screen. The physician refused to tilt the screen, insisting that his screen was immovable. These obvious mistruths create small tears in the fabric known as the therapeutic relationship. Allowing oneself to be “teachable” and therefore human is one of the biggest secrets to successful video relationships.
Related good telepresence suggestions include:
- As a clinician inviting clients/patients into your video room, make them feel welcome. This may be as simple as greeting them with a warm smile.
- Avoid eating, drinking, excessive fidgeting, looking out the window, or glancing at your cell phone when online. Your client or patient will be looking directly at you. Minimize the appearance of being otherwise occupied.
- Checking a nearby mirror is wise if your video interface does and allows you to see yourself before appearing on screen. Comb your hair and check your teeth for leftover snacks before going on camera.
- Be polite. Clear your throat, blow your nose off-camera, or mute yourself when managing bodily functions.
- Be fully clothed, and reduce the amount of visible cleavage, chest hair, or nasal hair that will be visible.
- Ask for any adjustments that might still be needed on your side. Ensure that they, too, have a clear view of your torso and your head.
- Ask about sound clarity. Can they hear you?
- Start each telehealth visit with a confirmation that they are alone or with people they trust. Is there a door in their space? Is it closed and locked?
- Who else might be in the home? Can they overhear you and your client/patient? In this way, they will understand that they may answer personal questions.
- For the same reason, confirm that you are also alone and that the patient has your undivided attention.
- Listen to your client and don’t interrupt. Use gestures and encourage comments and reactions.
- After the consultation, ask your patient or client to review their experience. What could you have improved? What could they improve for your next video meeting? What did they like or didn’t like?
Health care technology is here to stay. How ready are you to maximize telepresence to build your video relationships and strengthen the therapeutic bond? Do you have the basic telehealth skills and the digital literacy skills to maximize your effectiveness when using telehealth? If not, many resources exist to help you keep up with practice today.
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