One of the most important factors of webside manner is communication. Without the ability to effectively communicate and convey empathy, connecting with the patient and building any sort of patient-provider relationship is near impossible. But communicating in a virtual setting requires a different approach than an in-person setting. After all, think about how your communication style changes over text or email. It’s easy to forget the subtle complexities of body language and eye contact when communicating through technology.
Below are tips on how to communicate effectively in a telemedicine setting, as well as insight from VirtualMed Staff providers and best practices they utilize in their own practice.
Oftentimes, body language can speak louder than words. Are you sitting there with your arms crossed? That makes you come across as closed off. Fidgeting with a pen? You might appear distracted. It’s important to be mindful of these subtle changes in body language and what they convey to the patient. Here are a few tips and pointers:
- Nod in approval while the patient is speaking to demonstrate you’re listening
- Maintain a sturdy posture and reframe from reclining in your chair
- Monitor your facial reactions and avoid scolding or appearing confused
- Keep your hands still and avoid fidgeting
“Facial expressions are key. My advice is to record a couple of consultations and you’ll quickly notice that your fake smile isn’t as convincing as you thought. Then, practice in front of the mirror. Practice what to do with your face to send the messages you want to send and conceal the messages you don’t want to send.” - VirtualMed Staff Provider
Eye contact lets the patient know you’re interested, actively listening, and respect what they have to say. That’s why it’s important to keep your gaze towards the patient and make eye contact instead of staring offscreen or upwards towards the camera lens.
Remember, it’s easy for the patient to ignore when your eyes wander in an office setting because they can see what you’re looking at. But on camera, they have no idea what’s happening offscreen and that can cause frustration, confusion, and anxiety.
The words we use and how we phrase comments can change the mood of a conversation. For instance, starting the conversation with, “What’s the problem today?” sounds more negative than, “Thank you for meeting with me today”. Keep language and word choice positive to build a positive relationship.
“The most effective way to convey empathy or connect with patients is to just have a sense of humor. It helps lighten the mood and connect better in what sometimes is a stressful situation.” – VirtualMed Staff Provider
For many patients, this might be the first time they’ve used telemedicine. Let them know exactly what to expect and take a moment to check in at the beginning to ensure everyone is ready to begin. Setting expectations helps ensure patients don’t leave disappointed because the appointment didn’t live up to what they imagined.
“The biggest priority with acute stroke care is to get the information you need as quickly as possible to start time dependent treatment. In order to do that, I like to say as early as possible, ‘I need to apologize. I'm cutting you off now and may have to do so again, because the treatment for your husband's stroke is extraordinarily time critical and every second counts. So, I'm going to have to cut you off from time to time for his benefit to get him treated faster and I really apologize for that.’ One hundred percent of the time, they completely understand.” – VirtualMed Staff Teleneurologist
Wrap up the call
How you end the call is just as important as how you begin it. Reiterate what you discussed, review any important next steps, and most importantly, leave time for questions. This will allow patients an opportunity to clear up any confusion and make sure everyone is on the same page.
“Empathy and connecting with patients are always important and need to be prioritized. Since patients often remember the last thing you say, I always make sure it’s something hopeful and let them know you are trying to make them feel better.” – VirtualMed Staff Provider
From Bedside to Webside: New Standards for Physicians in Telemedicine
Webside manner is just as important as bedside manner. As telemedicine adoption continues to grow, providers and healthcare systems will need to have standards and best practices in place to ensure the provider-patient relationship can still thrive in a virtual setting. If all of this seems like a lot to handle, it doesn’t have to be with the right telemedicine partner.
Want more bedside manner tips and best practices? We've got you covered.