How To Build Patient Trust Virtually
3 tips providers can use in their own practice
Trust is one of the most important things in healthcare, especially between a patient and their provider. More often than not, patients are coming in vulnerable and nervous for their appointment. Factor in added technology considerations that come along with virtual visits, and that’s a whole other ballpark. Not having that face-to-face, physical interaction can put a barrier between a patient and the provider during a visit, should a few simple measures not be taken beforehand and throughout.
How do providers establish that same level of trust with patients virtually? That’s what this blog will cover. We are going to walk you through the challenges that come with virtual visits and best practices for overcoming them with ease.
Benefits of virtual visits
Before we get into the how, let’s dive into the why. Telehealth isn’t going anywhere. 83% of patients want to continue to use telemedicine after the pandemic has run its course. With virtual visits sticking around, it’s important to learn how to build that trust and hop over the barrier of not interacting with the patient in-person.
The benefits of virtual care? This could take awhile to list out, but why don’t we break it down to just a few of the primary ones.
Convenience - One of the most widely reported benefits by patients is the convenience telehealth offers. They can be seen by a provider nearly anytime, from anywhere. Whether you are at home, work, commuting or on the other side of the world.
Time Savings - With virtual visits, there is no need to fit in travel time to and from the appointment. That’s a big deal for patients in rural communities or those struggling to take time off work or to find childcare. It also eliminates time spent in the waiting room.
Less Illness Exposure - With COVID-19 still hanging around, virtual visits eliminate the risk of catching the virus from others in the hospital or clinic waiting room. Not only does it eliminate that added risk of being infected with COVID, there are tons of other illnesses that are contagious that patients can avoid by going with telehealth.
Challenges of virtual visits
Everything comes with its own challenges and telehealth is no exception. With its fast growth and implementation thanks to the pandemic, it has presented some challenges for providers.
Technologically Challenged Patients - Not everyone, especially older generations, are familiar with technology. Whether they are completely against using telehealth as a care option or they struggle with using the latest gadgets, older patients aren’t as comfortable using virtual care services. This can make it difficult for providers who are treating patients that aren’t tech-savvy. Some may not know how to unmute or turn the camera on which can be frustrating during a visit. To help overcome this, being patient (which we will talk about later in this blog) and sending step-by-step instructions to your patient before the visit on how to work the technology can make a huge difference in how the appointment is run.
Limits Assessment of Patients - Providers can only do so much when they aren’t with the patient in-person. They can assess what the patient tells them and what they can see through the camera. Although it does limit the physical assessment of the patient, it isn’t a waste of time. In some cases, the provider may be able to diagnose the patient through the camera by viewing the problem area which would save them a trip to the hospital or help with advising proper next steps before resorting to an ER trip. But, if they don’t feel confident in the diagnosis, they can also recommend they seek further treatment in person.
These challenges can be overcome easily with a few extra steps you can take as a provider to ensure the visit goes smoothly and efficiently.
Tips for delivering quality care virtually
To help overcome the challenges that come with virtual visits, we put together a list of tips to deliver the same quality of care as in-person visits. These include best practices to ensure your patient feels comfortable and trusts the care you’re providing them. Let’s get into it:
Tip 1: Creating a strong first impression
Making a good first impression may be the most important thing to do during a virtual visit. It takes seconds for someone to make a judgment on someone after meeting them, this includes patient and doctor relationships. If you don’t make a good first impression on the patient you are seeing, it could eliminate the trust they have in you which will decrease the quality of care.
To make a strong first impression with your patients, there are a couple of things you can do:
Practice good ‘webside’ manners. Having a strong bedside manner is one of the most important traits a physician should possess. The virtual term for this is ‘webside manner’. Which refers to the way a healthcare professional interacts with a patient during a virtual visit. Some helpful tips to practice good webside manner and create a strong first impression include:
Over communicate with your patient - when starting the telehealth visit, address the fact that this is going to feel different than sitting in an exam room and that’s okay. If you’re taking notes, let them know if you’re taking them in a notebook or on your computer so they are aware you may be looking down or typing. This reassures the patient that your sole focus is on them.
Double-check your environment - make sure you are in a private space, preferably in an office or in a room that is interruption-free. If possible, a room with solid, neutral colors. This will create a relaxing environment for your patient and avoid having a distracting background.
Focus on the camera - looking into your computer’s camera during your visit with the patient will give the feeling that you are making eye contact. This will take some practice and will feel unnatural for a while, but this will help achieve that connection with the patient and help them feel more comfortable.
Watch your body language - virtually, patients will be solely focused on you which means they will notice every little movement. It is important to make sure you are mindful of your hand motions when talking - too much hand motion can be distracting. Avoid clicking a pen, tapping your foot on the floor or drumming your fingers on the desk. Many microphones on computer’s can pick up even the slightest sound. Now, you should nod your head while the patient is speaking to acknowledge you are listening and understanding what they are saying. Remember, you are in the center of the screen, so be mindful of that while conducting a telehealth visit.
Ask questions to get to know them. Building a relationship with your patient right off the bat is another good way to make a strong first impression. It shows you are interested in their life and want to get to know them. This will build trust with your patient before you dive into the reason for their telehealth visit.
Integrating these practices into your visit will help your patients feel comfortable which will make it easier for you to deliver the highest quality of care.
Tip 2: being patient
Be patient with your patient! It’s important to keep in mind that since you are communicating in a virtual setting, technology sometimes will not go your way. The patient may not have a good internet connection or maybe yours is a bit spotty (if it is, you may want to look at how to fix that), so a good rule of thumb when conducting these visits is to wait a couple of seconds before responding to your patient after they finish talking. This will help you avoid interrupting them and making sure they have said all they want to say.
If the technology you are using is acting up or they are lagging a bit, let them know! Like mentioned earlier, over communicating with the patient is key. If you can’t hear them or if their words keep going in and out, be sure to tell them that so they know you are listening and want to hear everything they are saying.
Tip 3: Delivering actionable next steps
When wrapping up your visit with your patient, it’s crucial to offer next steps they can act on. Whether it’s telling them to go to the pharmacy because you prescribed them medication, advising them on lifestyle changes or referring them to a specialist, it’s important to tell them exactly what to do after the video or phone call ends. Patients are still learning the ins and outs of virtual appointments, so being clear and direct with all after appointment instructions will make it easier for them.
After the visit, it wouldn’t hurt to send them a follow up email listing out their next steps if the EHR software you are using doesn’t automatically update them when you update their chart.
With telehealth here to stay, putting these tips to action while you are conducting visits virtually will help you deliver quality care to all patients you see.
Future of telehealth
Speaking of telehealth not going anywhere… Lets talk a little bit more about the future of telehealth. As we all know, telehealth boomed when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In July 2021, telehealth use had stabilized at levels 38 times higher than before the pandemic. Since then, virtual visits have leveled off a bit with a bright future outlook.
One area that is seeing major potential in the virtual care space is psychiatry and psychotherapy. Mental health experts are estimating that in the next five years, 8 out of 10 mental health visits will happen virtually. The access, quality, and cost advantages telehealth provides patients who are seeking mental health treatment is unbeatable.
Almost 88% of patients want to continue to use telehealth post pandemic, according to a survey done by Sykes. So, it’s the perfect time to break into the telehealth space and treat patients seeking care virtually.
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