Enhancing the virtual patient experience: 10 etiquette tips
Virtual medical consultations are the new gold standard in distanced medical care. Because of the pandemic, telehealth is becoming increasingly commonplace, as it allows patients to receive care and monitoring without the risk of in-clinic interactions.
Virtual consultations have also become the norm for thousands of patients who need follow-up consultations and regular condition monitoring, while still maintaining social distancing. These consultations are easy for patients to access at any place and time, making them risk-free and convenient for both themselves and their healthcare providers.
Although virtual consults offer myriad benefits, they can pose some challenges because of the distance involved. Doctors and healthcare providers must compensate for the impersonal nature of telehealth with proper virtual consultation etiquette. This ensures that their patients receive the level of care they expect.
Here are 10 tips for enhancing the virtual patient experience and practising good etiquette during online appointments.
1. Reduce or minimise patient waiting times
Most doctors and healthcare professionals will schedule virtual consultations for specific times. It is important to ensure that proper scheduling guidelines are in place within a practice. This will help avoid overbooking and give each patient enough time to address their concerns adequately. If appointments are running behind schedule, patients should be called or sent a message to let them know so they can prepare for the delay.
2. Show genuine interest in patients
Showing genuine interest in patients’ needs and concerns can go a long way in ensuring their comfort during virtual consultations. It is a good idea for practitioners to greet patients and introduce themselves if necessary, at the start of the call, and ask them how they are doing.
Prior to the consultation, patients can be asked to make a list of questions or concerns, and can be sent a link to the health provider’s site, which will inform them what they can expect during their first appointment.
A web form can also be sent, which asks the patient to detail their concerns, questions and problems. They can use this form to provide additional information that they would like their practitioner to know before the consultation begins. Not every patient will use these services, but having them available clearly demonstrates that the patient’s wellbeing is important.
3. Keep bureaucracy to a minimum
Traditional paperwork will already be minimal during virtual consultations. However, it’s still frustrating for patients to offer the same information repeatedly before they even get around to speaking to their doctor.
Patients’ insurance data and personal information can be gathered via an online web form at the time the appointment is made, and stored in the cloud for rapid access. These details should be confirmed regularly, telephonically or via email, to ensure that the information is correct and up to date.
4. Offer empathy
Virtual medical consultations can feel impersonal for patients. This is why it’s crucial for practitioners to display authentic empathy for every single patient.
Patients who believe their doctor really cares will be far more likely to accept advice and treatment suggestions. Healthcare providers can ask their patients questions to get them speaking about themselves in a personal capacity, which will help with this process.
5. Keep offices neat and professional
Some medical professionals are still working from their consulting rooms, and others are currently working from home offices. Either way, offices should always be neat and clean when hosting video calls. Maintaining a neat environment will help maintain a professional reputation and instil confidence in patients.
6. Look patients in the eye
Making eye contact with patients is a great way to ensure they feel heard and not rushed, regardless of how brief a consultation is.
Practitioners should try to avoid checking smartphones and tablets, reviewing notes, or looking up information on a laptop during video calls. These actions can make the consultation seem transactional and impersonal. Eye contact should be made with every patient at the beginning and end of their consultation, and as often as possible during the session.
7. Make patients feel important and understood
One of patients’ biggest complaints about their medical providers is that they feel their doctors are trying to rush through their appointments.
This perception, and level of care, can be improved by interacting sincerely with patients and taking the time to discuss a patient’s concerns and answer any questions about conditions and treatments. These gestures make patients feel valued, understood and listened to.
8. Explain treatment options in detail
Patients need to understand how the offered treatment options will affect and assist them. It is important to explain the recommended treatments, why they have been suggested, and what can be expected when implementing them.
Possible side effects should be discussed, as well as efficacy timeframes, titration protocols, and any other information they may find helpful. Patients should be offered the opportunity to contact their doctor again if they have any further questions or concerns regarding medication.
9. End consultations with relevant questions
Once a practitioner has interacted with a patient, offered a diagnosis and advice, and prescribed treatments, they can ask the patient a few key questions about their experience. These can include:
- Are you satisfied and comfortable with the treatment options we have discussed?
- Do you have any concerns regarding the treatments I’ve recommended?
- Do you have any other concerns or questions that I can answer?
Questions like these will help make patients feel comfortable and cared for, especially during virtual appointments.
10. Implement post-consultation patient care practices
It’s good etiquette to email patients a summary of their consultation, including your diagnosis and a recommended treatment protocol, after the meeting has concluded. This document can be sent along with the invoice and a note of thanks.
Additional resources can also be provided that might help the patient understand their condition, diagnosis or treatment plan.
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