In March and April 2020, nearly every private practice in the U.S. was forced to fundamentally change the way they managed their business. With the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic limiting (or temporarily eliminating) office visits, the only way to regularly see patients and earn revenue was via telehealth appointments.
Those first few weeks were logistically and technically challenging. Providers had to ramp up on how to use their telehealth platform often (or even add a telehealth platform to their practice), and pass instructions on to patients. Speed was of the essence.
Now, the patient appointment schedule continues to evolve. More patients have been heading back into the office for in-person visits, rescheduled appointments, and delayed procedures. Telehealth has become less of an absolute necessity and more of a critical strategic enhancement, for hospitals and practices. Our most recent survey research shows that one in four patients are hesitant about in-person visits.
Virtual care is at a transition point within the U.S. healthcare system. If legislation continues to expand telehealth use and provider reimbursement, more practices have greater opportunities to rely on virtual visits as a key aspect of their business.
With that in mind, practices should review their current telehealth experience — and take steps to improve it. Look beyond those initial days of choosing the first available platform and celebrating a simple, successful audio-video connection with a patient. Your practice has probably conducted more telehealth visits in six months than you could have imagined. Now, as you make telehealth part of your larger strategy, get those encounters working for you and enhancing patient satisfaction.
Reserve a consistent physical space for your telehealth visits. Whether you’re conducting virtual visits from your office or your home, select a room (or rooms) for those appointments. This can help manage your practice space, and allows you to address the quality of your video calls.
Ensure you have a strong connection. Transmitting video and audio can make demands on your bandwidth. Run a speed test online via Google to check your internet connection. If you can, rather than rely on WiFi, use an ethernet cable to connect directly to your internet source. If you’d like to see the difference that makes, run the speed test using only WiFi, and then again with the ethernet connection.
Control the lighting in the room. You don’t need to light your space like a world-class photographer, but you also want to make sure patients can see you. Avoid sitting in front of a window — that will “wash out” your image. If you have to sit in front of a window, always close the blinds or shades. If you have enough natural light coming in the room for patients to see your face, that usually looks best. (If not, turn on your office lights.) For optimal lighting, you may want to position a lamp on or near your desk, or even add a small ring light.
Connect a separate microphone. Make it easier for your patients to hear you, especially if they are hearing-impaired. The mic that’s built into your laptop can often give off a hollow, echo-y sound; instead, invest in a better microphone you can connect to your laptop. Then place it on your desk, just out of sight from the camera.
Close other programs and/or apps. Don’t slow down your laptop with other stuff running in the background. Close any program that’s not needed for your patient visit.
Know patient FAQs about your telehealth platform. Your practice may have tested your telehealth platform before using it widely. Or, you may know the technical questions your less-tech-savvy patients ask most often. Either way, get to know your telehealth solution — at minimum, the tech basics, and preferably, some of the more advanced ins and outs.
Why? If patients have any questions before or during the encounter, you’ll be better-positioned to help them. They’re less likely to get distracted (or drop off the call), and you’ll maintain a positive patient experience.
Position your laptop or tablet to maximize eye contact. With video, providers have a unique opportunity to look their patients in the eye more frequently than they might in person. Not only are the usual office surroundings not part of the picture, but patients spend the large majority of their appointment time just looking at and talking to their provider.
To optimize eye contact during a telehealth visit (or any video conversation), do your best to position your eyeline straight ahead when you look into the camera. A simple way to achieve this is by placing your laptop on a small stand to lift it off your desk. That’s a great way to cut down on the feeling that you’re looking down at the patient.
Minimize the amount of time that you look away from the camera. That may be difficult if you need to document within your EMR separately or check imaging, but look at the patient as often as possible. When you aren’t, let them know what you’re doing so they know you’re paying attention to them.
According to our 2020 patient survey research, about half of patients have seen a healthcare provider via telehealth this year. Three of four said they were satisfied with the experience. More than one-quarter said they now would prefer a telehealth visit whenever possible.
As the role of telehealth comes further into focus, it’s clear that practices offering the option have an additional patient retention tool at their disposal. Conducting telehealth visits with optimal bandwidth, audio quality, and provider-patient connection simply add to the patient experience, and should be part of the picture.
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