One of the hottest topics in medicine today is the continued growth of telemedicine.
According to a survey by Jackson Healthcare, Telehealth is expected to grow in the U.S. by 27.5%, reaching $9.35 billion by 2021. It is estimated that by the end of this year alone, the number of patients using telemedicine services will reach 7 million, with 44% of private practices making the development of telemedicine services, their number one priority. This approach is especially popular in rural areas where accessibility to physicians can be difficult.
As an increasing number of patients choose telemedicine as a more convenient option than emergency or urgent care visits, the challenges that physicians and other healthcare professionals face to build relationships with patients have become even greater.
The communication techniques healthcare professionals use to build trust are even more important during physician-patient video conference calling. The impersonal nature of communicating via screen amplifies the need to focus on communication techniques that build trust between the physician and patient. Without trust in their healthcare provider, patients are less likely to follow their treatment and have poorer outcomes.
Healthcare providers can use the following communication techniques to build trusting relationships with patients during telemedicine visits:
- Give the patient your undivided attention - It is easier to forget during videoconferencing that the patient is watching and interpreting your body language. Remember that 70% of all language is non-verbal. Take limited notes during the conversation. Writing or entering data in the EMR (electronic medical record) during conversations is perceived as multitasking and not interpreted by patients as being thorough. Be aware of your facial expressions. Since the patient cannot see your body positioning, he/she will be watching you even more closely than if you were in the same room. Your facial expressions can either be interpreted as compassionate, disinterested or rushed. The perception of eye contact can be felt even through video.
- Remember that each interaction with a patient is a conversation and not an interview. Don’t interrupt or ask follow up questions before the patient has finished speaking. Patients are even more sensitive to the feeling of being rushed during telemedicine. It is very important to let them feel that even though you may not be in the same room, they are the most important person to you at that moment.
- Be a genuine person. Although healthcare professionals will often be video conferencing with patients they have never met before, there is still an opportunity to form a trusting relationship in a short period of time. Today’s patient wants to interact with their healthcare professional on a personal level. Avoid the “all business” attitude. Relate on a personal level. Ask the patient where they are from and find a common interest if possible to help form that relationship.
By all accounts, telemedicine will play a large part in the future of healthcare. It has the potential for dramatic cost reduction, increases in healthcare accessibility and improved patient satisfaction. It should not be a replacement for the strong relationship between a patient and his/her healthcare provider as that is critical to any healthcare visit. By learning proper techniques in compassionate communication, healthcare providers can build relationships even through video conferencing.
Dr. Anthony Orsini, Founder and President, BBN, is a full-time neonatologist and expert in compassionate communication in medicine. He is currently the Vice-Chairman of Neonatology at Winnie Palmer Hospital in Orlando, FL. He also serves as the President of BBN, the organization he founded in 2012 that offers training services to educate professionals in the art and science of compassionate communication.