With the paradigm shift to telehealth, clinicians are adapting to administer care via digital platforms. In 2020 alone, HRS supported over 10x the number of virtual visits than it did in 2019, with a 180%+ increase in video visits per month after the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Although the ability to do virtual visits is both convenient and efficient, it is important to acknowledge the impact the change can have on the provider-patient relationship. The topic of webside manner to enhance patient interaction has become increasingly prevalent.
Spend just 5 minutes reading this blog to gather actionable tips to improve your webside manner and ensure that your patients always remain the focus of the virtual visit.
What is Webside Manner?
In our technologically progressive world, webside manner is the virtual equivalent of bedside manner or a clinicians’ interaction with their patients. Bedside manner encompases everything surrounding a provider’s attitude including word choice, intonation, facial expressions, and body language. Studies have demonstrated that good bedside manner has been a major driver for positive patient experiences and outcomes. In fact, patient satisfaction surveys indicated that physician communication is more important than physician ability in evaluating quality of care.
The most commonly cited patient complaint is poor bedside manner, even over medical proficiency. When providers engage their patients and are able to build a strong connection with them, patients are more willing to confide in the clinician about their health issues and concerns.
The best practices for positive bedside manner can easily be applied to best practices for positive webside manner. However, critical differences include the emphasis on non-verbal communication and action visibility for webside manner.
Below are some best practices to enhance your webside manner, broken into 3 sections: planning ahead, during the visit, and after the visit.
Planning Ahead1. Set Up Your Devices in Advance to Avoid Technical Issues
Both your time and your patient’s time is important. Setting up your technology prior to the call will ensure valuable time is not spent fixing avoidable issues.
- Ensure your device has strong network connectivity - check your device’s Wi-Fi signal and consider a backup plan if the network cuts out
- Test your webcam, microphone, and speakers - ensure all hardware devices required for your virtual session are functioning properly
- Close additional tabs on your device to improve video quality - close out unnecessary tabs that can impact connection and create a lag time
- Have your vendor’s tech support contact info ready in case any technical issues do pop up
Given the emphasis of one’s image during a video call, it is important to optimize your position and environment for high quality optical display. Below are a few tips to enhance the visual aspect of your call:
- Position yourself in the center of the screen at eye-level - keep the center point of the camera on your face while avoiding cutting off the top of the head
- Wear appropriate attire - since the camera will magnify your appearance it’s important to dress professionally to set a good impression
- Avoid light or windows behind you - backlighting may lead to a shadowy shape on screen hindering the ability for the patient to properly see you, so try to keep bright lights in front of you
- Pick a neutral background - opt for solid, light colors, neutral tones to minimize distractions in the background
- Choose a quiet, private place for the video visit - since the video call may amplify sounds, pick a location with minimal background noise
During the Visit1. Avoid Multitasking
Being on your personal device, you may get tempted to check your email or surf the web while on a call. It may be even enticing to eat or drink on the video call. However, patients deserve their clinicians undivided attention as they would in person. If you need a sip of water, try to do it quickly and to the side of the camera to minimize distracting visuals and noises. In most cases, providers should avoid multitasking while speaking to a patient – give your patient your undivided attention.
2. Display Empathy Through Nonverbal Cues
Although it is difficult to convey empathy virtually, nonverbal cues and action visibility can enhance a patient’s perception of a clinician’s webside manner.
- Maintain eye contact - training yourself to create psuedo eye contact by looking directly into the camera will create the illusion that you are looking directly into the patient’s eyes
- Keep your chest open and lean forward - maintaining an open posture conveys engagement and interest; crossing your arms and leaning back can unintentionally communicate disinterest
- Nod your head throughout the conversation - subtle acknowledgement demonstrates active listening and understanding
- Avoid unnecessary movements - tapping, bold hand motions, and getting up from your seat can be distracting and disruptive; if moving is necessary to look at a chart or input a note, proactively communicate these actions so patients feel engaged and don’t feel ignored
Although telehealth has created new boundaries between patients and clinicians, patients continue to want to be heard and understood. Acknowledging the patient’s needs and concerns throughout the virtual consultation keeps the patient engaged and satisfied.
- Break the ice - going through introductions and starting off the conversation with light discussion will help put the patient at ease
- Acknowledge what the patient is going through - acknowledging the patient’s situation builds trust in the relationship; it is also helpful to acknowledge any concerns or trepidations the patient has with the technology
- Summarize what the patient is saying - paraphrasing and repeating back the patient’s symptoms and concerns indicates active listening and demonstrates that you understand what the patient is going through
- Leverage technology to enhance the patient experience - leveraging the ability to screen share medical documents, or condition education, or adding a third party such as another clinical professional or caregiver will enhance overall patient experience
- Allocate additional time at the end of call - providing time to address patient questions and patient concerns with next steps keeps the patient engaged
After the Visit
As with any consultation, patients appreciate ongoing communication with their providers. Sending a summary of the visit with next steps empowers patients to take control of their own health.
- Summarize the visit - recapping the visit will demonstrate your engagement throughout the session
- Outline next steps - reminding patients of symptoms to monitor, prescriptions to pick up, or other important topics on the call, will help the patient keep their health on track and remain adherent to their care plan
- Send contact information - providing contact information reassures patient’s that they can reach out with any questions
- Ask for feedback - proactively asking for feedback demonstrates that you value patient input
As many have noted, healthcare delivery via technology is here to stay. It is imperative that clinicians adapt their communication and listening styles to boost their webside manner. At the end of the day, all patients desire to be heard and understood by their providers. By making just a few modifications to your communication style, you’ll be able to establish the same patient connection virtually as you would in person. These subtle changes will not only transform your patients’ experiences, but more importantly, they will transform their health outcomes and overall lives.