Telemedicine is a tool which makes healthcare more accessible, more cost-effective and which increases patient engagement. Since making its debut in the late 1950’s, advances in telemedicine have contributed to seniors having the choice to age in place. Furthermore, patients who reside in rural areas who had previously had difficulty accessing a physician can now virtually reach them.
The doctors and patients will exchange details from one computer screen to another in real time. And even at a remote location, they can see and catch readings from medical devices. Patients can see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment using telemedicine apps, without having to wait for an appointment. Patients can meet with a doctor at their home’s comfort.
Considering the relatively slow acceptance of technology in healthcare, the idea of telemedicine and telehealth may still be new to providers and physicians.
Telemedicine do’s for physicians
- Use normally accessible web meetings, and bring professional caregivers anywhere with online video resources. WebEx, GotoMeeting, Adobe Connect, Skype, and a number of other “web meeting” applications which often used in technical office settings and online sales pitches are excellent resources for linking caregivers in urban communities to their rural patients. These kinds of web meetings can happen securely either at the patient’s home or patients can be brought into satellite offices with high-quality telepresence. Instead of waiting for days or weeks for a health care provider to travel to an area or for patients to take off for several hours or entire days going to specialists in big cities, treatment can be given almost immediately with less difficulty.
- Do use to dress as you would dress for the office and “show up” for appointments. When you’re working from home, relaxing your dress code is tempting. (You will probably see a few patients in PJs themselves.) But you should think of a virtual visit like any other appointment — and dress the part — to convey that the experience is business as usual and your patient is getting appropriate care.
- Do use a secure, fast internet connection. The most common frustrations that arise during telemedicine appointments relate to the technology itself. The internet drops. The video freezes. The audio cuts out. Make sure your internet connection is fast and secure. You may need to upgrade your internet service to enable effective virtual appointments, but it will be well worth the cost. To see where you stand, test your internet speed here — just click “Run Speed Test” to get started. HealthIT.gov recommends a minimum bandwidth speed of 4 megabits per second (Mbps) for a single physician to effectively monitor patients remotely.
- To improve clinical assessments using medical equipment for remote monitoring of in-house treatment. While web meetings are great for primary basic care, they are not perfect for elder care, long-term care and other types of clinical needs. There is a new class of devices that can put near-hospital quality patient monitoring devices in patient homes and “beam” which data into monitoring centers that can track significant events in several patients in different geographical areas. Toss in a nurse or other caregiver who can visit to calibrate the devices once a week or once a month and you can see how much more convenience patients can have and have their doctors, wherever they may be, have immediate access to their actual vital and clinical status.
Telemedicine don’ts for physicians
- Don’t be uninformed. Know why the patient requested an appointment and have their chart nearby. Understanding their chief complaint ahead of time not only sets the tone for the appointment, but it also helps focus the conversation and saves everyone time. Encourage your patients to be as detailed as possible when booking online, and train any staff members scheduling appointments over the phone to collect specific information about the nature of the visit.
- Don’t forget about lag time. Depending on the speed of your internet as well as your patient’s connection, you may experience lag time and audio hiccups during your conversations. A general best practice is to pause a couple of seconds before you jump in to make sure your patient has finished speaking and you’re not talking over each other.
- Don’t view telemedicine as an end-to-end strategy on its own (and make sure your patients don’t either). There’s no one-size-fits-all solution in medicine, and a virtual appointment isn’t appropriate in every situation. Severe symptoms may require an in-person exam, and true emergencies will always necessitate a trip to the ER. Use your best judgment to decide what’s right for each individual patient and clearly explain why you’re recommending one course of action over another.
- Don’t feel like you need to be perfect right out of the gate. COVID-19 has launched us into a new era, and it’s natural to feel a little unsteady on your feet as you grow comfortable with a new technology. The good news is that it’s also a very forgiving time. For many patients, having any sort of engagement with their healthcare providers is simply enough. If you want to ease your way into telemedicine, consider starting with a “beta group” of current happy patients and expanding to more as you establish workflows that are appropriate for your practice.
- Do not leave patients alone and encourage them to enter in online communities. Online community building tools allow residents of populous cities to meld with their rural counterparts. Patients helping other patients are a terrific approach to extending care; sometimes what a patient needs is not necessarily a health professional but a curated session with fellow patients going through the same problems. Online, electronic, community tools can connect geographic communities and bring them closer together without increasing costs or requiring anything more than a simple mobile phone or computer.