Experts are encouraging doctors to work on their "webside" manner amid the rise in telemedicine services, Erica Teichert writes for Modern Healthcare.
The telemedicine industry is booming. About three-quarters of employers say their health plans will offer telemedicine consultations by 2017, Modern Healthcare reports. That growth has shined a light on providers' webside manner—their style of offering support and comfort to a patient remotely—which experts say is a key skill for telemedicine providers.
"Just like during a traditional office visit, clinicians must juggle paying attention to the patient with filling out EHRs and other forms. It's as important to put patients at ease in a virtual environment as it is in an office," Teichert writes.
Medical school curricula do not include formal requirements for telemedicine education, meaning early telemedicine pioneers had to self-teach. Today, some organizations offer telemedicine certification and training courses for providers.
But according to Ron Gutman, CEO and founder of third-party vendor HealthTap, formal training isn't always necessary; some webside manner is just common sense. "Every consultation starts with a smile," he said, "and ends with a checklist," which can include intake forms, talking patients through their diagnosis, and answering questions about prescription options.
Providers can establish good webside manner by clearly communicating with the patient, such as explaining that they're looking at the patient's medical records on the screen, Teichert says. Clinicians also should make an effort to maintain eye contact and ask follow-up questions, she writes.
Providers should also consider their environment, said Elizabeth Krupinski, a University of Arizona professor and associate director of evaluation for the Arizona Telemedicine Program. "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 said. "It's not that simple."
Providers need to be aware of everything from the lighting in the room to the quality of the video camera, Krupinski said. The best telemedicine appointments, she added, are ones where the provider is well-lit and easily seen, in a professional environment without mess or clutter.
Maintaining the provider-patient relationship
Some experts warned that relying solely on telemedicine could jeopardize the provider-patient relationship in the long term.
Arman Samani, chief technology officer at AdvancedMD, encourages providers to use telemedicine with existing patients and avoid having one-off virtual visits with patients. "If you don't know somebody, if you're going to have one transaction with them, how can you engage with them effectively?" he said (Teichert, Modern Healthcare, 8/27).
Why telehealth technology isn't enough
There are dozens of telehealth technologies to choose from. But planners who ask, "What technology should I invest in?" are focusing on the wrong question.
Technology is a tool that enables strategy, not a stand-alone solution. To build a successful strategy that effectively leverages telehealth technology, start by asking these three targeted questions.