The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way healthcare providers deliver care. As a result of social distancing and enhanced restrictions, it is expected that doctors’ offices and hospitals could see 1 billion telehealth interactions by the end of 2020.
Virtual visits can be a powerful tool to successfully deliver patient care, but without some preparation and thought, visits can fall flat and feel cold and ineffective. Here’s what providers should keep in mind before, during, and after those video visits to make them engaging and effective.
Tips for Telehealth Visits
Choosing an appropriate location for the virtual care visit is critical for ensuring your patient’s comfort and privacy. The location needs to be HIPAA-compliant — so make sure you are in a private space where others can’t overhear your conversation. If circumstances don’t allow you to be in a fully private location, there are other HIPAA safeguards to consider, including speaking in a lowered voice and not using speakerphone.
You will also want to minimize distractions and disruptions, so clean up any clutter and make sure to silence any potential background noises (e.g., disable smartphone/laptop notifications), and make sure you have good lighting (brighter light should be in front of you versus behind).
While a telehealth virtual visit can feel casual, it’s important to maintain a professional appearance that reflects your organization’s image and brand. Wear professional attire, including a lab coat if that’s what you usually wear during patient exams.
There are a number of things that can inadvertently derail a video visit, from an unstable internet connection to a device running low on battery power. To set yourself up for success, make sure to address all potential technology issues before you begin the visit.
Don’t rely solely on battery power, and if possible, use a wired internet connection rather than wireless. Close any other tabs or applications you have open — too many open programs can slow down your device performance. And perhaps most importantly, know who you can call (for example, your IT team) if you run into an issue. To serve your patients best, you need to be able to address any potential technological glitches as quickly as possible.
Perhaps one of the most difficult — and yet most important — considerations during a video visit is building and maintaining a connection with your patient. Telehealth virtual visits can seem less personal than an in-person exam, but there are several ways to help your patient feel more at ease and connected.
Offer your full attention to the patient by facing the camera, making eye contact, and addressing the patient by name. Start the conversation by introducing yourself and explaining your role. Then, as you would during a normal visit, take a comprehensive history so you can fully understand the problem.
Empathize with the patient. Use phrases like “I’m here to help you,” or “It sounds like you’re having a hard time managing your pain,” to validate his or her feelings and show you understand their concerns. Being behind a screen means you’ll have to work harder than normal to build trust and deliver outstanding care.
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Documentation and Billing
Documenting a video visit generally doesn’t look too different from documenting an in-person visit. However, make sure to note the use of two-way audio/video in the note, as well as the patient’s consent to a virtual visit.
And above all, you’re still required to follow HIPAA regulations. For example, HIPAA does not allow video visits to be recorded, and all patient information must be protected, including when it’s in the format of a video or image.
Caring for your patients may look a little different today, but it is likely that virtual care visits will continue, even after the coronavirus pandemic has passed. By taking the time to prepare and improve your video visit techniques, you’ll be better equipped to provide excellent care for your patients including making a real — although virtual — connection with them.
Need a video-visit cheat sheet? Get a quick reference for making your virtual visits successful. Download our infographic, Provider Video Visit Tips.