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A Physician’s Guide to Telehealth Consultations

The past year provided a crash-course for hospitals, medical centers, and individual providers in how – and how not – to do telemedicine. Organizations and leaders across the medical profession have presented and published their hard-earned lessons about virtually providing high-quality healthcare services that benefit both the provider and the patient.

As more health systems scale up toward enterprise telemedicine solutions, it’s important that the providers who perform these virtual visits and consultations embrace new skills and best practices. Here’s a collection recommended by leading voices across the medical profession.

Pre-visit considerations for telehealth providers

Be strategic with your telehealth implementation.

Even though many states are lifting their COVID-19 restrictions, telehealth will continue to be the preferred mode of care in many situations. Think about what kinds of care – and what types of patients – most easily lend themselves to a virtual care solution. Then, consider what technology you have on hand and what you’ll need to purchase or lease to provide that level of virtual care on a long-term basis.

Properly integrate telemedicine consultations into your practice

There are many telehealth platforms on the market, but you’ll want to ensure your telehealth service works with your existing systems – not outside them. The best telehealth platforms are intuitive and easy to use, leading to more actionable consultations.

Doctors, nurses, medical assistants, and any other personnel who will be involved in patient encounters need to participate in training and practice using their hospital or health care center’s telemedicine platform. Though this may be a hodgepodge, look for a platform like Caregility’s, that can support multiple applications so staff are not faced with a handful of apps to learn and support.

After training, a checklist of tasks can be a helpful refresher and a useful resource on how to troubleshoot problems that may occur in the middle of an encounter. Consider organizing some simulated virtual care visits and then provide feedback on clinician performance.

Prepare your patients to use your telehealth solution

A pre-appointment call with medical staff can address any questions about internet connectivity and devices. Your staff can also inquire about whether a patient has access to items like thermometers, blood pressure monitors, scales, or other tools that will be required to complete the e encounter. These calls are also good opportunities to demonstrate that, although the visit will happen remotely, it will be just as private and secure as a visit to the office.

It’s a different type of medical encounter.

Providers struggle to deliver quality telemedicine experiences when “they try to take what they do in person and move it, en block, to the virtual realm.” That’s what Nele Naik, director of emergency medicine simulation education and an assistant professor of clinical emergency medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, said during an AMA webinar.

So, how can health-care providers overcome the challenges of communicating with patients remotely?

First, providers need to develop a good “webside manner” – which means:

Making your environment look – and sound — good on camera

Obtain professional lighting and position it to avoid glare and spotlighting. Keep your office or work area free of background clutter that may appear in the frame and distract the patient. Ensure your office remains quiet for the entire visit by turning off the sound on devices whose alerts could interrupt your conversation.

Greeting the patient and putting them at ease

Introduce yourself to the patient, ask them where they’re located, and ensure any other people who may be joining them are necessary to the visit (to ensure the encounter is HIPAA compliant). Let them know you’ll be asking questions to help evaluate, diagnose, and treat their condition. Encourage them to speak up at any time if they cannot hear you or don’t understand what you’re saying. Ask for a phone number or alternative communications method to reach them in case the internet connection fails.

Remaining fully present during the telehealth visit

Review your patient’s chart before the visit or use dual monitors so you can refer to their electronic health record without looking down and shuffling papers. “The fundamentals of patient-centered communication still apply,” wrote a doctor reflecting on his experiences providing telemedicine consultations during the pandemic for Harvard Medical School. Use open-ended questions, practice active and reflective listening, and include the patient in any decisions you recommend.

Checking in with the patient after the telehealth visit

Make sure your patient had a good experience by reaching out personally or via a medical assistant for a follow-up call. Ask about any challenges the patient had with the technology or the content of the visit. Use this feedback to continually improve the quality of the telehealth experience – for both you and your patients.

The transition to telehealth can be a challenge for both new and experienced providers. Yet with careful preparation and plenty of practice, telemedicine can be a tremendous asset in helping you and your organization build strong doctor-patient relationships now and well into the future.

Learn more about how Caregility can help you optimize your virtual care and telemedicine efforts.

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