Telehealth has become more common in healthcare these past few years, but the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need for virtual visits tenfold. With social distancing a must, the convenience offered by telehealth has become favored by many when it comes to their healthcare, including dermatology. But will that trend continue once COVID-19 has become manageable? If so, is your practice fully equipped to meet the demands of telehealth?
According to a recent study from George Washington (GW) University, many dermatology patients are happy with telehealth appointments in place of in-person office visits. The research team also says even before the pandemic, dermatology has seen a gradual increase in the use of telehealth visits over the last decade.
The researchers distributed online surveys to dermatology patients at the GW Medical Faculty Associates. Almost half (47%) of the respondents said they’d had a previous appointment canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and almost 18% were new patients with no previous in-office appointment. Respondents said they liked that telehealth visits were time-efficient, didn’t require transportation and allowed for social distancing. Reasons they didn’t like virtual appointments included lack of physical touch and feeling they received an inadequate assessment. When asked if they would recommend telehealth visits, only 7% of patients said they would not. The research team also noted the ongoing challenges associated with administering telehealth visits, such as replicating the collaboration and diagnostic effectiveness of in-person appointments, avoiding privacy issues and appropriate image acquisition.
Considering this study, it does appear that telehealth has become a well-received and sometimes preferred method of receiving care for many – even looking beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. So if your practice does provide telehealth options, are your technological capabilities and approach as effective and up to date as possible? If you’re considering ways to advance your telehealth or kick off telehealth services, here’s a quick recap of some suggested tips and ideas.
Do You Have the Right Equipment?
Using and testing the right equipment during your appointments can help you avoid technical hiccups and satisfy your patient’s expectations.
- Webcam – A good, high-quality camera won’t replace the clarity of an in-person visit, but it will help recreate it. If your patient can clearly see and interact with you, they’ll be much more comfortable. Most laptops and mobile devices now have built-in cameras, but a lot of desktops still don’t. So if you don’t have a webcam or need a better-quality camera, it’s an easy fix. And nowadays, a high-quality webcam doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg. Here are a few high-rated but affordable options. Placement of your webcam is also important. Whether it’s built into your computer or external, try to keep it at eye level to maintain eye contact.
- Microphone – Quality sound is also important for a good experience. If your patient has difficulty hearing you or vice versa, key communication points can be missed. Like webcams, many desktops, laptops and mobile devices have quality microphones and speakers built-in. But if you have problems when testing out your sound, using an external microphone or headset may be a good idea. Here are few options for mics and
- Lighting – Now you don’t need to go out and buy a professional lighting kit, just make sure the space you choose is properly lit. And that means not under-lit or over-lit. Turn on more lights or bring in a lamp, etc. if needed. Or if there’s too much light in the room you’re using, try covering your window, etc. Do what you can to create the best-looking image of yourself possible.
- Power source – This is simple but important. Make sure your computer or device is fully charged or plugged into a power source, so you don’t run out of power during your telehealth visit. You should also close out other programs and apps on your device. Sometimes these can drain your power faster or impact the quality of your video stream. If not using an app, the browser you choose can also impact the quality of your video. Chrome or Firefox browsers are recommended if needing to use a web browser.
- Internet – You’re most likely using a Wi-Fi connection for your internet, which is fine as long as you have a strong connection in your designated space. If you have connection issues, you may consider using a wired ethernet cable instead to prevent disconnections. Also, if you’re using your phone and have issues with your wireless data, you may want to connect to a Wi-Fi source instead.
Is Your Space Adequate?
You can do a telehealth visit just about anywhere, but it’s still a good idea to have a set space. This will help you maintain consistency with all aspects of the visit – your sound, lighting, appearance, etc. The space can be at your practice or your home, wherever’s more convenient and will offer the best experience. That includes a space that’s private and free from distractions, so your patient feels they have your full attention and know their personal information is safe.
Do You Have the Right Itinerary?
Before the telehealth visit, it’s best to review the patient’s information/medical issues so you’re fully prepared. You can also keep their medical history on hand to reference, whether it’s a paper copy or pulled up on your device. When prompted, sign on to begin the appointment. From there, you know what to do. Follow the same guidelines you would in an in-person visit. Certainly, the remote setup is going to change some aspects of your typical routine and not being able to physically examine the patient can be challenging, but do the best you can with what you have. Hopefully, you won’t encounter any (or too many) technical issues during the visit, but if something major happens you need help with, you may want to have the number of your telehealth service’s IT support team handy just in case.
Once everything’s wrapping up, thank the patient for joining you and explain what the next steps are as you normally would, whether it be a follow-up visit, picking up a prescription, etc. You can also ask them for feedback on the telehealth visit, so you can make the necessary improvements/adjustments next time.
Need more telehealth tips? Our practice management experts are here to support you. Schedule a consultation today!