Are you conducting telehealth visits but realize there’s room for improvement? This quick guide will help you optimize your telehealth appointments, hone your “webside manners,” and use your technology more effectively. 

If you’re just getting started with telehealth or looking for a deeper dive, check out these resources: 

  • The AMA Telehealth Implementation Playbook is a step-by-step guide to integrating digital tools into clinical practice. The Playbook explains the path to telehealth implementation, including identifying a need, forming your team, contracting, designing your workflow, partnering with the patient, and evaluating success. 
  • HHS publishes Telehealth Best Practice Guides to help you understand how others in your field use telehealth to connect with patients. Search for your specialty and get practical recommendations on billing, strategy, and more. 
  • The American Telemedicine Association is the leading member network organization focused on advancing telehealth. If you’re serious about telehealth, consider becoming a member and attending the ATA annual conference

How to optimize your telehealth appointments

The COVID-19 pandemic required providers to start using telehealth en masse sooner than anyone expected. And while clinicians are back to in-person appointments, the consensus is that virtual visits will account for a growing share of healthcare delivery. 

Whether you’re a telehealth regular or relatively new, you might have wondered, “How can I make telehealth appointments more manageable and effective?” 

Here are five tips to help you optimize your telehealth appointments. 

1. Know your telehealth tech

On a scale from 1-10, how familiar are you with your telehealth technology? Consider these questions:

  • Do you know and use all the features of your telehealth platform? 
  • Is your telehealth software smoothly integrated with scheduling, billing, and documentation? 
  • Have you configured your software to the specific needs of your practice? 
  • Are you comfortable using telehealth on your mobile devices?
  • Do you have contingencies (e.g., if you lose internet or patients have trouble with the software)?

If you’re just starting a new telehealth workflow, do a trial call with someone on your staff. Make sure you can easily log in and that the software has access to your computer audio and video.

If you’re a seasoned telehealth practitioner, think about ways to use your hardware and software more effectively. For example, many providers use dual screens to take notes in the EHR while conducting a video visit. Others interact with their patient on their desktop computer while using their mobile device to document notes in the chart

You can always do more to optimize your telehealth tech, so taking it one step at a time is best.

2. Prepare your patient before the appointment

The best way to improve your telehealth appointments is to help your patients arrive prepared. Preparing your patients starts with confirming they receive automated appointment reminders and including clear instructions for how and when to join the virtual visit. 

Appointment reminders are also an excellent opportunity to give patients a pre-visit telehealth checklist, which could include items like the following: 

  • Please test your equipment before the telehealth visit
  • If you have technical difficulties, call the following number: (###) ###-####
  • We recommend you find a quiet place for the virtual visit
  • Please be in a well-lit space to allow for clinical assessment
  • Have your medical information available
  • We encourage you to bring a list of questions for the provider
  • Please have a pen and paper nearby to write down the treatment plan

Ensure your pre-visit workflow includes collecting necessary patient paperwork like informed consent forms. Once on the call, assess the patient’s familiarity with telehealth and provide orientation as required. 

3. Stay up to date

In addition to knowing your telehealth tech and ensuring your patients come prepared, you must arrive up-to-date in several senses.

First, have all the documentation you need ready. Do you have an easy way to review your patient’s previous visit notes without navigating away from the telehealth platform? 

Second, ensure your computer or mobile device operating system and any software you use is up-to-date. Updating software – or setting automatic updates and restarting your computer regularly – will minimize bugs and technology failures. 

Finally, stay abreast of insurance policy changes regarding telemedicine. Set a reminder to regularly check with payers to ensure your patients are still covered. 

4. Hone your “webside manners”

You’ve spent years refining your bedside manners and developing excellent patient communication skills. But telehealth is a different context with new challenges and best practices. 

Remember these tips as you develop and hone your “webside manner.”

Make a good first impression.

Video visits are less personal than in-person encounters, making first impressions more important than ever. Arrive prepared, greet the patient by name, and connect personally. Confirm the patient can see and hear you, and ask them to introduce themselves and others in the room. 

Explain what you’re doing.

Remember that during a video visit, patients have no context for anything outside the video frame. Explain what you’re doing during the visit, especially when you look away from the patient (e.g., to take notes). 

Dial in your video presence, but focus on the patient.

One of the big challenges of telehealth visits is to simultaneously monitor your visual presence while staying focused on the patient. 

As you begin each visit, take a moment to ensure your video is on and that you are positioned roughly in the center of the frame. Confirm that your hair and clothes are professional and that you are facing a light source (ideally natural light from a window). 

After ensuring your video is configured correctly, focus 100% on the patient. Minimize distractions by hiding the view of your image, and make eye contact with your patient by looking at your computer camera. 
Remember that provider communication is one of the top determinants of patient satisfaction and that doctors tend to overestimate their communication abilities. Excellent bedside manners are even more important in telehealth than in traditional visits, so now is the time to keep honing your skills.

5. Create a pleasing, professional environment

Video software has become very good at swapping out your actual background with a virtual background. But surveys show that most people still prefer seeing the actual room behind you on a video call. 

Unless concealing your surroundings is necessary, create a pleasing, professional environment within your video frame. Start by choosing a quiet space with little background noise, and take proactive steps not to be interrupted.

Next, think about what you would like to see behind a professional you are consulting. Consider sitting in front of a bookcase, hanging your diplomas on the wall behind your desk, or staging an appealing house plant. 

Finally, ensure your appearance is professional and undistracting. Wear what you would for an in-person visit, stick with solid-color clothing, and avoid fidgety behavior.

The truth is that patients aren’t terribly picky about your appearance or video background. But it’s important to avoid busy or distracting environments that will shift their attention from you. Try not to have anything in your visual field that you wouldn’t have in a clinical setting. 

Free telehealth virtual backgrounds

While it’s typically best to use your actual background for video telehealth visits, there are always exceptions to the rule. There will be times when you need to conduct a video appointment away from the office or in a setting that might otherwise distract your patient. 

Here are four free virtual backgrounds you can use for upcoming telehealth visits. Notice that each image is lightly blurred to mimic the “blur background” feature available on most telehealth and video conferencing apps. 

When you use these virtual backgrounds for telehealth, your patients won’t be distracted, and they probably won’t even notice your background is virtual!

Bright, clean exam room virtual background
Click to open and download. Image is intentionally blurred for a realistic background effect.
Medical bookshelf virtual background
Click to open and download. Image is intentionally blurred for a realistic background effect.
Modern exam room virtual background
Click to open and download. Image is intentionally blurred for a realistic background effect.
Traditional exam room virtual background
Click to open and download. Image is intentionally blurred for a realistic background effect.
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