Virtual care visits, once a “nice-to-have” for patients and providers, have quickly become a “must have.” Due to COVID-19, healthcare professionals across the United States have been propelled into the future of virtual medicine as a means of necessity to continue delivering care to patients. The response to the question asked by many providers, “How will we continue to compassionately care for patients and keep them safe?” has been answered and answered swiftly. Some would say old school is the new school; we are “going back to the future” in that doctor visits are at home again as in days past. Virtually, that is.
Now that many healthcare organizations are up and running and connecting with patients via various platforms such as Apple FaceTime, Google Duo, Skype, and Epic Video Visits, providers want to maintain great patient-centered, compassionate care but are concerned with how best to preserve patient-provider engagement.
As a provider, you demand best practices for your in-person care patient visits and the same holds strong for virtual care visits. Virtual care visits invite a multi-dimensional response to the way healthcare is delivered. Providers want to ensure professional, safe, efficient care, while ensuring privacy and quality are honored. At the same time, patients, even those truly welcoming virtual care visits, are entrusting this virtual method of care delivery.
For various reasons, some may struggle and resist virtual care visits, while most will support them. In time, this will be a win-win for providers and patients. These days, for many reasons, we find patients of all ages embracing telecommunication technology for medical treatment. For some, not having to take time off from work or limiting travel time to receive care is also greatly appreciated. For others, receiving virtual care is simply expected in this day and age.
We hope the following is useful advice for providers asking, “How do I continue to honor the provider-patient relationship during virtual care visits?” The answer is threefold: 1) trust the technology; 2) trust yourself; and 3) trust your patients.
1. Trust Technology: Practice, Practice, Practice
a. Attend and review training sessions offered until confident; rally with fellow colleagues to share best practices.
b. Know the various Virtual Care Visit platforms available. Have your organization’s IT number handy for when concerns arise.
c. Be sure to document clearly, connect with the patient portal and know the appropriate billing and coding instructions.
2. Trust Yourself: Represent the best of yourself
a. Review the patient’s medical concern and history; set an agenda, ask clear questions and take a thorough history of present illness. Clinical guidelines apply to virtual care visits just the same as in-person visits. Utilize Shared Decision-Making concepts. This may sound like, “Hello Mr. Chance. I looked at your medical history before our video visit. I understand you are having some headaches. First, let me ask you some questions to help get a better understanding about your headaches. Then we can talk about your thoughts and concerns of how to manage your care.”
b. Always make a personal connection as you begin. Use the patient’s name and maintain comfortable eye contact. If this is a first virtual visit, reassure and invite the patient to ask you questions at any time. For example, you may say, “Mrs. Rose, I want to make sure I do a great job caring for you. Please ask me questions as we visit here. I LOVE WHEN PATIENTS ASK QUESTIONS!” And don’t forget to smile, which is especially needed these days!
c. As you close the virtual care visit, express thanks and explain next steps, such as, confirm where the patient will pick up their prescription, schedule a follow-up visit and/or advise who will call them back as needed. You may close with, “Thank you, Mr. Norman, for meeting with me by video and sharing your medical history. What questions do you have regarding what we talked about today before we end our visit? Please confirm the name and location of the pharmacy you choose. Also, remember Maria will call you in two days to schedule your follow-up visit.”
3. Trust Patients: Patients want to learn from you
a. Share your screen to invite patients to see important images such as lab results; encourage them to take notes of any instructions or write down follow-up questions they may want to ask. This may sound like, “Miss Mary, can you see the chart on the screen clearly? Let’s talk about what we are looking at.”
b. Utilize the “TeachBack” tool to ensure patient understanding. TeachBack sounds like this, “Ms. Maple, I want to make sure I did a good job explaining your follow-up care. In your own words, please tell me the three steps we talked about regarding your new medication for heartburn control.”
c. Invite patients to share what they appreciated about the virtual visit and how you can improve their experience. Invite their input by asking, “Tell me Mr. Smith, are you comfortable meeting with me on the computer this way? What can I do better to improve your experience?”
This advice is intended to inspire you to continue to provide the excellent compassionate care you deliver to patients.
As we observe social distancing, healthcare professionals are finding that virtual care visits provide an alternative way to compassionately connect with patients. Delivered effectively, virtual care visits will maintain the trust of your patients while keeping them, yourself and your team members safe.
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Theresa Dionne, MA, CPXP, Consultant, Patient Experience, is a communication specialist and celebrates over 10 years in Patient Experience. In 2016 she joined Methodist Medical Group in Dallas, Texas. In addition, Theresa is an instructor in the “Introduction to Coaching” course for the University of Wisconsin’s on-line Health and Wellness Program. Her passion is encouraging employees to embrace patient-centered approaches and focus on relationship building in healthcare.
Theresa Dionne, MA, CPXE, Consultant, Patient Experience, is a communication specialist and