From Bedside to Webside: Why Appearance Matters in Telemedicine

why appearance matters in telemedicine


How important is looking the part?

Whether it’s dressing professionally for an interview, putting on a uniform, or donning the white coat, appearance gives an immediate impression to those around us. That’s why nearly 72% of hospital doctors wear white coats 75% of the time – it’s easy recognition by both colleagues and patients. But what about in a telemedicine setting? After all, we all have our “work-from-home attire” that is less professional than if we were in an in-person setting.

So, is appearance as important in a virtual setting?

Appearance is a critical component in webside manner, or the way a healthcare professional interacts with a patient remotely. In fact, researchers from the Arizona Telehealth Program conducted a study on the importance of optics and environment in a telehealth visit, and concluded that the way a provider’s practice environment looks is just as essential as an in-person visit.

Why appearance matters in telemedicine

In a virtual setting, all your actions are magnified on camera. With the camera focused squarely on you, every movement, facial expression, and item of clothing within frame is front and center fighting for the patient's attention. Something in your teeth? The patient will see it. Coffee on the collar? No doubt you’ll see their eyes drifting towards it throughout the appointment. What you wear and how you appear on camera is important. Not only because it’s important to appear professional, but also because every little disturbance can potentially be a huge distraction in the eyes of the patient.

Below are tips on how to dress the part for a telemedicine setting, as well as insight from VirtualMed Staff providers and best practices they utilize in their own practice.

Check the mirror

Before signing on, take a second to stand in front of the mirror. Look for anything that could potentially be distracting; whether that’s something in your teeth, a spot you missed shaving, or a loose cowlick that needs a quick brush. Remember, it’s not a movie set, so don’t hire a makeup department, but all these little distractions are amplified on the screen.

You always have to remember to take a quick 3 second look at yourself on the camera before you connect with a patient to correct any issues or lettuce in your teeth. You should ALWAYS look at yourself before getting in front of a patient because they’re going to look at you and immediately form an opinion, so it’s best to have any issues taken care of.” – VirtualMed Staff Provider

Choose what you wear carefully

Unfortunately, a telemedicine consultation isn’t the right setting for Hawaiian Shirt Fridays. Choose appropriate clothing that you’d wear while treating a patient in-person. That means no “loud clothing”, like bright colors, distracting patterns, or anything that would come across as unprofessional. Here are some suggestions:
For Men:
  • Neutral or soft colors like white, navy or a soft blue, or light gray 
  • Professional work shirts with a collar
  • Doctor's gown or medical scrub
For Women:
  • Neutral or soft colors
  • Professional tops, collared shirts, or an appropriate dress
  • Doctor's gown or medical scrub

“For guys, two things are key: a shirt with a collar and a white coat – ideally with a name tag that has a large ‘D.O.’ or ‘M.D’ on it. The white coat is especially important for both men and women because it promptly identifies you as a doctor.”VirtualMed Staff Provider

Telemedicine doesn’t mean wearing surgical gear or personal protective gear, but it does mean treating the appointment like you would an in-personal consultation and minimizing distracting or unprofessional attire.

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.

Check out our bedside manner series that covers everything from professionalism, how to setup your virtual office, understanding your technology, to critical communication skills in telemedicine