The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption rate of telehealth technologies and virtual care. Five best practices for telehealth clinicians have emerged as the healthcare industry adjusts to this new normal.
During the COVID-19 crisis, telehealth usage expanded manifold as patients stayed home to comply with social distancing orders. Telehealth usage in late March 2020 was 154% higher than the previous year and in September 2020, telehealth claim lines were 2,980% higher than September 2019.
Hospital systems and clinicians responded to the explosion of telehealth with creativity and dedication. Although telehealth presents significant challenges to the traditional healthcare delivery ecosystem, the resulting solutions to many of these challenges are already circulating as new best practices within the community. Here are five that our Wolters Kluwer team identified as we prepared for our new Lippincott TelemedInsights solution.
1. Develop “webside manner” with patients
Transitioning from the clinical setting to a virtual environment can be awkward at first, so it’s important to start building a trusting relationship with the patient through an explicit focus on “webside manner.” As we’ve all come to recognize during the pandemic in business, education, or social gatherings, relationships are not fundamentally about proximity but about dialogue, listening, humor, asking questions, observations, and shared history - all of this is possible via telehealth.
It’s also important to consider the presentational aspects of webside manner. Clinicians should dress for a telehealth consult in the same way that they would in-person - no clinician would show up to a personal consult in a t-shirt or a baseball cap. Lighting, camera angles, and sound are also important to maintain a level of professionalism and quality. Patients will likely judge the credibility of their clinician on their presentation over the web.
2. Analyze determinants of health over virtual calls
Telehealth provides a unique opportunity for clinicians to see aspects of a patient’s home life that can help inform decisions on overall treatment and care, and analyze broad determinants of health, including social determinants. As an example, in a traditional in-person consult, clinicians will ask their patients about their diet but have no way of confirming whether the answers they receive are accurate. In a virtual context, clinicians can ask their patients to walk over to the fridge and see whether the patient’s diet includes vegetables or not.
Similarly, clinicians can potentially utilize a broader set of cues to understand patient’s mental health and well-being through telehealth than in person. When delivering difficult news via telehealth, for instance, clinicians can see when patients fall back on traditional coping mechanisms - such as petting a dog or holding a pillow – giving them insight into patients’ stress levels when receiving a diagnosis. This in turn facilitates recommending mental health treatment.