Telehealth is here to stay! Eighty percent of patients had positive experiences during the pandemic, and the same number wish to continue their telehealth sessions when meeting in person is not necessary for treatment, or as an adjunct to in person visits.
No matter what the medium though, patients and clients judge healthcare providers on two dimensions:
1) Professional knowledge and expertise; and 2) Communication/relationship skills.
Research show that effective communication skills are correlated with patient satisfaction, and that poor bedside/webside manner is the most frequent complaint of dissatisfied patients.
This post-pandemic turning point is a good time to take your webside manner to the next level.
Video communication calls for an increase in communication cues which convey trust, listening skills, approachability and of course professionalism and expertise.
Based on experience and research, here are five top skills to master:
1. Initiate the call with a warm welcome and structure
Here is a sequence that works will for telehealth professionals, which you can flexibly adapt to your style and situation:
– Engage in a minute or less of small talk with your patient. Yes, talking about the weather is always fine. Your intent is more important than your content.
– Introduce yourself briefly if this is a first visit, with this model;
Experience or something about yourself
Look forward to visit and being helpful
Example “I’m Dr. Starr, and I’ve been in the ENT field for 11 years. I look forward to being helpful this morning.”
– State how time will be used
Example :“We can start with you sharing your reason for the call. Of course, I will be asking a bunch of questions. I’ll then share advice and recommendations.”
2. Listen with nonverbal and verbal cues to signal engagement, empathy and approachability.
Use head nods and encouragers such as uh huh, mmhmm while the patient is speaking. Try phrases like “I get it” and “That makes sense”, and prompts like “Tell me more” for empathy and reassurance.
In my book Smart Speaking, I write about the “chronically pleasant look”: widened eyes and a slight, ever-present smile. Many patients are naturally intimidated by healthcare providers and simple displays of warmth ease the power difference.
3. Sound engaged and interesting
Speech and voice effectiveness enhances connection with patients.
To control speed, use the 1-2 technique. Pause for a count of two in between thoughts to let patients absorb information – and for you to take a breath.
Convey meaning and impact with the skill of vocal variety. One word in every phrase is emphasized with a change in loudness, pitch, or duration of the vowel.
Practice with the following sentence, emphasizing the words in bold or words of your choice:
“I’d like to schedule a follow-up call to see how the meds are working. What’s a good time for you?”
Be generous with vocal variety, as it is a main way patients perceive you as influential and present.
4. Convey information and advice clearly
When giving a recommendation, state the recommendation and the benefit.
Example: “I recommend practicing by recording yourself and observing. This will help you to see your webside manner more clearly.”
Keep your sentences on the shorter side and define all medical terminology.
(If you can use the virtual chat box to write notes to the patient during the visit, all the better!)
Try this template for defining terms which may unfamiliar to the patient: Term-Definition-Example
Example: “Vocal variety is the ability to convey meaning and impact with your voice. For example, Dr. Rashid is a GREAT communicator.”
After sharing a diagnosis or recommendation check in with the patient.
For example, ask “Does that make sense? ”or “I know we covered a lot in a short time – anything that isn’t clear?”
Keep in mind that stress, distractions, anxiety and pain affect patient’s ability to absorb information, so repetition and ending the visit with your action plan add to retention.
Howard Reis, President of HealthePractices, a telehealth consulting firm, shared that patients may benefit from inviting a caregiver, relative, or friend to the visit to help with remembering information post visit. He also suggested obtaining a back up phone number from the patient, in case technology gets wacky.
5. Master your virtual image
Patients get to know you within a small square, and you want to ensure that your professionalism shines through.
Make sure you are on top of these video essentials:
– Frame yourself so you are in the middle of the image.
– Leave three inches above your head. This is called “headroom.”
– Check your lighting, which can differ by time of day. You want light coming from behind your device, not behind your head.
– Sound like a pro by using a microphone attachment or making sure your device has outstanding sound.
– Look into the camera when speaking, not as necessary when listening. It’s awkward, but it’s the way patients perceive that you are looking at them.
– Wear professional clothing. Hint: The color blue inspires trust and looks great on video.
– Be aware of your background. Consider having your medical degree or company logo visible for visits with unknown patients.
Your mastery of webside manner makes a big difference to client satisfaction, well-being and health.
Use these tips wisely and well!
Originally published in MedHealth Outlook