COVID-19 permanently changed the healthcare industry. Though there were many negative effects, such as shortages in staff, providers, facilities, and PPE, there was one positive outcome: the integration of telehealth systems as a primary means of communication and provision of medical care. Telehealth has since cemented itself as an invaluable tool for healthcare, making effective patient communication more important than ever.
So, what is telehealth, and how does it work? Why is communication so important in telehealth? We'll answer those questions in this article. We'll also detail useful tips for effective communication with patients in a telehealth system.
What Is a Telehealth System?
A telehealth system is a way to provide healthcare remotely. Also referred to as telemedicine, this system uses telecommunications technology to provide medical services at a distance.
Telehealth Use Cases
Telehealth includes remote consultations and monitoring of patients with chronic illnesses. Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals can use this system to monitor patients who require acute or continuous care.
There are many types of telehealth solutions available for remote patient care, including:
- Telemental health
- Virtual nursing
- Virtual rounding
- Patient observation
- Remote surgery
Telehealth can also be an excellent tool for streamlined communication with patients through popular services, such as:
- Chat or email messaging between a provider and a patient
- Instructional videos teaching patients how to use medical devices
- Virtual follow-up and post-op visits via video chat
These uses are further enhanced by telehealth carts, which feature a tablet for audiovisual communication mounted on a wheeled base for easy transport.
How Does a Telehealth System Work?
A telehealth system uses video technology such as videoconferencing software and devices like smartphones, tablets, or laptops/computers to connect healthcare professionals with their patients. This is accomplished by transmitting data between two or more locations via the internet or other communication networks. Providers can use video chats, emails, text messages, and phone calls within a telehealth system.
There are two common ways that you can provide care for your patients in a telehealth system:
- Patient portal: Using a secure system to send and receive emails from your patients, refill prescriptions, share and explain imaging or lab test results, and allow them to set up appointments
- Virtual appointments: Setting up an appointment through video conference or phone call
Patients can request a visit and submit their basic information through the patient portal. You can choose to accept or decline the visit, then schedule both office visits and virtual appointments.
Why Is Effective Patient Communication Important in Telehealth?
It's clear that telehealth is an invaluable tool for providing accessible, high-quality care and communication to patients, so your "webside" manner is just as important as your bedside manner.
Why? Consider four reasons:
1. Compensates for Lack of Visual Cues
Telehealth is unique in that nonverbal communication is hindered compared to in-person interactions. It can be difficult for you to detect patients' gestures or facial expressions that indicate disapproval or a lack of understanding. Conversely, patients may not be able to accurately gauge your level of interest and concern because they can't see your body language.
There may also be technological delays in transmission, which can negatively affect communication. Therefore, developing strong interpersonal and communication skills is vital to compensate for these potential issues.
2. Fosters a Positive Patient-Provider Relationship
Since successful healthcare involves a collaboration between the provider, care team, and patient, effective communication can strengthen the patient-provider relationship. Trust can be more difficult to establish virtually, and effective communication can break through this barrier.
Patients will feel a deeper connection with you during remote care when you communicate openly and skillfully, provide education and encouragement, and actively demonstrate empathy. Effective communication through telehealth allows patients to enjoy both the convenience of high-quality remote care and the assurance that you genuinely care about their concerns — even over a video screen.
3. Improves the Patient Experience
Modern patients are rapidly transitioning into consumers, which means they demand high-quality care and an exceptional experience from their providers. Integrating technology like telehealth into your practice is an excellent way to meet these demands, but ineffective communication can sour the experience.
When you communicate effectively, keeping the lack of visual cues and possible technological issues in mind, patients enjoy a smooth, streamlined experience. This constant stream of high-quality care and communication will significantly improve their perception of telehealth and your practice, especially for patients who may initially be hesitant to adapt to virtual care.
4. Increases Patient Outcomes, Satisfaction, and Engagement
When patients feel valued and heard and witness how their health outcomes improve with virtual care, their satisfaction will increase. Satisfied patients become engaged patients, which causes them to become actively involved in their health, accept your proposed treatment, and follow your recommendations. This will lead to improved patient outcomes and metrics.
8 Tips for Effective Communication With Patients in a Telehealth System
Ask Relevant Questions
Asking relevant questions is one of the best ways to indicate that you're listening to a patient. Since you can't examine the patient in person, be sure to ask detailed questions about their symptoms, environment, and history.
If you need to ask questions to clarify what they said, don't hesitate to do so. This will indicate that you are truly listening and want to help the patient improve their condition.
Maintain Eye Contact
It's best to avoid staring toward the camera lens or offscreen when conducting telehealth visits. Patients can't see what you're looking at when you're on camera, which can cause confusion, anxiety, and even frustration.
Eye contact shows that you're actively listening, interested, and respecting what your patient says. Therefore, it's important to maintain eye contact with the patient for the duration of the visit. If you must look away, consider letting the patient know beforehand and keep it as brief as possible.
Use Simple Language and Avoid Medical Jargon
Patients are often anxious when they visit the doctor, and virtual appointments can increase these feelings. They may also be more hesitant to express their doubts or lack of understanding about what you're saying.
Therefore, it's best to use simple language and avoid medical jargon. Explain their test results, your findings, and your proposed treatment plan in simple, easy-to-understand language. You should also keep your word choice and language positive to further build a positive relationship with your patient.
Stay Engaged During the Visit
It can be much easier for patients to feel like you're not listening to them or are disinterested when videoconferencing. Since visual cues are lacking in telehealth communication, you need to take extra measures to show that you are engaged, such as:
- Nodding in approval while the patient speaks
- Making appropriate expressions while the patient speaks
- Making noises of confirmation to verbally indicate you're listening
- Maintaining an upright, sturdy posture
Thoroughly Explain the Treatment Plan
You can eliminate patient apprehension, confusion, or misunderstanding about your treatment plan by explaining it thoroughly.
Pause occasionally while explaining and kindly ask them if they understand or have any questions. This will demonstrate genuine care and empathy, making your patient feel comfortable asking the questions they need to get on board.
Review the Patient's Medical Record
It's always best to review the patient's medical record before and at the beginning of the appointment to demonstrate that you view the patient as an individual and are genuinely concerned about their health problem. You can immediately address their concerns, which will increase their satisfaction and trust in you. They will feel reassured, and you will be equipped with the right information to ensure the appointment runs smoothly.
Eliminate Distracting Body Language
As discussed above, nonverbal communication is already hindered due to the nature of videoconferencing technology. You want to demonstrate that you're listening intently to your patient and their concerns, so avoid body language that can make you appear distracted, impatient, or closed off, such as fidgeting, crossing your arms, or constantly looking away.
Set Up Video Remote Interpreting for Potential Language Barriers
Deaf or hard-of-hearing patients have a great challenge when it comes to telehealth. It can be difficult to ensure that you and the patient understand each other, which can lead to frustration for both parties.
You can eliminate this barrier by contracting for video remote interpreting services, which connect you with a qualified interpreter through audiovisual technology. The interpreter uses American sign language to communicate what you say to the patient, then shares the patient's input in your language.
World-Class Telehealth Carts for Patient-Centered Communication
When you communicate effectively while using a telehealth system, you ensure that your patients have an exceptional experience, build the patient-provider relationship, and provide high-quality care that improves patient outcomes. Following these eight tips for telehealth communication thus sets the foundation for continued success in the future. Integrating telehealth carts into your telehealth system is an excellent way to ensure you provide the best experience possible for your patients. Tryten Technologies offers high-quality, durable telehealth carts that allow you to provide effective, patient-centered communication throughout the entire patient care journey. Contact us today to see how our wide variety of mobile medical carts can support your practice.