You want to improve patient care and counseling with video conferencing, but you may have some reservations about it. Will it improve patient engagement, or harm it?
Telemedicine is more than just a communication tool — it’s a low-cost, real-time way to engage more patients and offer remote medical care so you can grow your practice. Hospitals and doctors can even receive incentives to use telemedicine technology to lower readmissions. A quick video conference with a patient may help solve an issue that could otherwise prompt a physical visit to a facility.
There are clear advantages for your practice. You can reach people in rural areas who may have to take hours off work to see you in person. Telemedicine has long been associated with patients who are far away — from oil rig workers to scientists in Antarctica to astronauts in space. That’s no longer the case. It may be just a rancher who’s 30 miles away and can’t take the time to drive into town to see you during calving season.
Then you wonder: are telemedicine visits personable? Can you be attentive to your patients via the computer, or perhaps even improve your relationship with them? The definitive answer is: yes.
When speaking with physicians, they find, on the other side of the camera, the patient is typically fully engaged and most are excited to use the technology. There’s more to telemedicine than just cameras and computers.
Often telemedicine sessions use a telesteth, the telemedicine version of a stethoscope. They are often more precise than the everyday cardiology-grade stethoscope. A panoptic otoscope can provide a bright, sharp image of the tympanic membrane and nasal turbinates. The patient can see inside their own ear canal, too, making it much easier to explain findings and discuss treatment. When it comes to telemedicine, seeing and hearing is believing. It’s a way for patients to be a greater participant in their own care and feel empowered.
The only possible disconnect when on this type of telemedicine encounter is the same as in any office setting — a human disconnect, not a technological one (e.g. the physician is having a hurried day, the patient is tired, etc.), but most of the time, telemedicine visits work out as well or better than in-person visits.
Telemedicine can often be less intimidating, and therefore more productive and personable than actual office visits. There are several reasons why:
- Privacy — It is more private for the client. Especially in a close-knit rural area where everyone knows each other, patients don’t want to be sitting in a waiting room with their neighbors.
- Concentrated time — During a video visit, the doctor focuses solely on you, the patient, and isn’t distracted by other issues and concerns that may be popping up in the office.
- Convenience — Seeing a doctor or therapist from home alleviates the stress of travel, especially for patients with chronic conditions who need to make frequent visits.
- Access to specialists — With telemedicine, doctors can offer access to previously inaccessible specialists who may live hundreds of miles away, but can be available through the computer in an instant.
- Face-to-face interaction with more patient participation — Telemedicine offers the same face-to-face interaction as an in-person visit, while increasing the patient’s comfort and convenience. There are no gaping hospital gowns and fewer invasive procedures, if any, are required.
- Health care transformation — Health care reform, the needs of baby boomers, the growing challenge in treating chronic conditions and the number of uninsured Americans leaves the industry at an inflection point, and telemedicine can accelerate the transformation toward better care. All of these factors take stress off patients, who just want simple, straightforward care that is not mired in red tape.
- Reducing hospital visits — Telemedicine can be used as a technology for home health monitoring before the patient ends up in the hospital in the first place.
- Increased engagement — Both patients and physicians tend to be more engaged with telemedicine. There’s less pressure on both sides and a sense that communication can flow more freely. It’s still face-to-face and personable, but there’s the added element of patient participation in their own care.
Consider the Veterans Heath Administration, which uses telecommunications and home health monitoring technology to keep tabs on more than 50,000 patients. The VA reports patient satisfaction levels of 85 percent.
Physicians often worry. They can take on more patients with telemedicine, but they’re concerned that they can’t be as personable. Video visits actually are personable and allow doctors to be more attentive to their patients — not only maintaining but also improving the physician/patient relationship.