COVID-19 has been a catalyst for telehealth, requiring clinics and patients to adopt virtual care at an unprecedented rate. While many chose to use virtual care out of necessity at the beginning of the pandemic, the majority of physicians and patients now see a place for it in the future. In fact, a recent survey revealed that the majority of Canadian physicians say they will continue to offer virtual care after the pandemic, with 64% indicating that they will maintain or increase their usage.
Whether your practice is just getting started with telehealth or simply wants to improve its online care experiences, here are some steps you can take towards conducting a successful virtual care appointment.
Before an appointment
There are several things that physicians can do prior to a virtual appointment to ensure it runs as smoothly as possible.
Set up a functional workspace
Online appointments are difficult to lead without a safe, high-speed internet connection, a computer or mobile device, a webcam and microphone, or a telehealth solution like TELUS EMR Virtual Visit or TELUS Collaborative Health Record (CHR). Make sure you’re equipped with all of these essentials before getting started.
It also helps to set yourself up with a neutral background in a private space to eliminate distractions, and a good source of light so patients can see you clearly. Some virtual care solutions even allow you to preview how your setup will look to the patient before you interact with them.
Collect patient information
Some tools, including the CHR, allow patients to provide their personal information in advance of an appointment. This may include email addresses and phone numbers, descriptions and photos of symptoms, health records, and the purpose of the visit. You or your medical team can then use the same digital tool to verify that all of the required patient information has been collected before a virtual consultation.
As a final step, ensure that consent to video conferencing was received when booking an appointment — especially if it’s a patient’s first virtual visit. You can record this information in your EMR, if desired.
During an appointment
Once a virtual appointment has started, there are a number of best practices that physicians can follow to create an optimal experience for their patients.
If you’re having trouble with your computer or device’s audio, you can introduce yourself and verify the patient’s identity using your telehealth solution’s built-in chat feature. In addition, you can use this tool to confirm the patient is in a private setting and ask whether there are any other people (aside from caregivers) present in the room.
Explain how virtual appointments work
Online appointments are naturally different from in-person consultations, so it’s important to outline their limitations. For example, you can inform patients about the types of symptoms you can and can’t assess virtually.
Communicate as much as possible
Small actions can help patients feel more comfortable and ultimately improve their virtual care experience: consider looking directly into the camera when speaking, telling the patient what you’re doing when not looking at them (e.g. taking notes), and using body language to show that a person has your full attention, much like you would during an in-person visit.
After an appointment
Just because an appointment has ended doesn’t mean there isn’t work to be done: there are a couple things that physicians can do after consulting patients online.
Write prescriptions and make referrals
Once the virtual appointment is finished, you can use your telehealth solution to send prescriptions to pharmacies, arrange appropriate requisitions or referrals, and book patients for in-person visits if needed.
Create a record of the visit
Virtual care solutions like the TELUS EMR Virtual Visit and TELUS Collaborative Health Record can also help keep the patient’s health record up to date. You can choose to store your notes from the visit and the live chat log, as well as any photos they might have shared.
What’s next for virtual care?
It’s likely that clinics will continue using virtual care well beyond the pandemic. By following the steps and best practices outlined above, physicians can ensure they’re set up to deliver safe and efficient online healthcare well into the future.