Some people don’t like going to the dentist or getting their blood drawn, but I’ve always had a strange interest in healthcare procedures and processes. When I recently decided to get tested for COVID-19, I was actually a little excited and intrigued by the whole process. Filling out an online screening survey, online appointment appointment, outdoor drive-through testing, and text/email notification of my test results was all a new and fascinating experience due to the forced change from a global pandemic. A negative test and a sinus headache later, I had another new experience: my first telehealth visit.
While telehealth isn’t exactly new, patient adoption has been slow up until now. While we’ve utilized the nurse phone line at our pediatrician’s office, I’d never even witnessed a video chat with a healthcare professional, let alone been on the receiving end. Again, it was a fun and exciting experience, but not one without hiccups or awkward moments as a patient. We’re all new to this and will get better with experience, but here are a few observations and tips for improving your virtual patient experience from my visit.
1. Be clear with pre-visit instructions
I called my doctor’s office to make an appointment and was told that I would get a couple of texts. The only problem was that the administrator wasn’t very clear on what those texts would be, when they would come, and what was expected of me. After some clarifying questions I was told that one text message would provide a link for me to fill out my digital intake forms and another message would have a link for me to join the telehealth waiting room.
I completed my digital paperwork and joined the waiting room prior to my appointment, but received another text minutes before the appointment started asking for my insurance information. I wasn’t sure if I should call right then and risk missing the doctor or if the doctor would even join the visit until I had provided the office with that information. Whatever processes you decide to implement, make sure to communicate them clearly so your patients aren’t caught wondering what to do.
2. Be mindful of your camera
My visit began talking with a medical assistant who asked me questions about my symptoms and health history while she took notes. The problem was I couldn’t really see her face since the camera wasn’t pointed directly where she was standing. This created an awkward start to my visit since I couldn’t really make a personal connection. Remember, your patients have a limited view already. Adjust your camera so they can see your face and make the extra effort to be personable.
3. Remember you’re occupying your patient’s phone
I’m a millennial. I use my phone for literally everything. After the assistant finished and I was waiting for the doctor, it was just like being in the office! I stared through my phone at a closed door for 10 minutes, waiting on the edge of my seat for it to open. But even worse, I couldn’t use my phone to pass the time because the telehealth visit was using my mobile browser! Obviously there will be some time the patient will have to wait, but be aware that they probably have nothing else to keep themselves busy.
I ran into the same issue when the doctor was giving instructions for treatment. I couldn’t take notes on my phone. This one has an easier solution: tell the patient you’ll send them a text or email after the visit with the details of what was discussed. It will go a long way for them to be able to listen and ask questions about care rather than frantically searching for a pen and paper (where do I keep those anyway?).
Being aware of these potentially awkward situations and making the extra effort to avoid them will make the whole telehealth experience much more enjoyable for your patients, and they’ll likely do it again!
Learn more about using telehealth in your practice in "The Complete Guide to Telehealth."