The Webside Manner
5 Techniques to Gain the Trust of Patients
Have you ever had a great doctor? Chances are you liked that doctor because of the way she made you feel as a patient; in other words, it was her bedside manner.
The bedside manner is the way a doctor interacts with her patient. It plays a large role in patient satisfaction and health. A good bedside manner will make the patient feel like the doctor is fully present in the moment and is interested in their opinions, feelings, and well-being. It will convey an aura of professionalism and reassurance. A poor bedside manner will do the opposite, and make the doctor appear aloof, withdrawn, uncaring, and even unprofessional.
So how can a doctor, using telemedicine, appear engaged, caring, and professional if he is not physically in the room? He cannot sit at the edge of the bed and hold the patient’s hand because he is not “close” to the patient. In fact, he might be hundreds of miles away.
Fortunately, there are ways in which doctors can establish a great bedside manner via telemedicine- what Orbit Health Telepsychiatry has coined, the “Webside Manner.” The following is a list of helpful tips which will pave the way for a great webside manner.
1. Introductions: Physicians often forget to introduce themselves, and this sets the tone for an impersonal interaction. Always introduce yourself to the patient, explain who you are, and describe the purpose of the appointment. A patient new to telemedicine will appreciate the extra effort you make to orient them about the process.
2. “Virtual eye contact”: Eye contact is important in human relationships. Telemedicine appointments feel better when the doctor on the screen appears to be looking directly at the patient. Unfortunately, when the camera is placed away from the monitor, the doctor appears to be looking away from the patient. This makes the doctor appear disengaged.
As a remedy, place the camera close to the patient image on the monitor so that you will be looking in the same general area of the camera lens; this will simulate direct eye contact. Try to look directly into the camera when speaking with the patient, much like a news anchor does when reporting the evening news. Maintaining virtual eye contact will help show your patient that you are interested in what they have to say.
3. Use your people skills: The social rules you learned in kindergarten about politeness and manners applies here. Be kind and warm, just as you would be in person. Furthermore, people feel closeness to those who refer to them by name. Use your patient’s name often during the course of the conversation.
Listen intently to what the patient has to say and give them your full attention. Remember that talking over a patient during telemedicine encounters detracts from the relationship. This is especially important in the rare event of an audio transmission delay. Make sure to let them finish their thought before talking.
From time to time, repeat back what the patient is saying so that they know you can actually hear them and that you understand. Use validating statements such as, “I understand how you feel.”
Never take phone calls nor have side conversations with anyone in your office while the session is in progress.
4. Nonverbal cues: It’s impossible to shake someone’s hand through monitor. Yet, handshaking and discreet physical contact can often help establish trust and closeness. It helps to simulate physical contact by offering a handshaking gesture, a friendly wave, or a fist bump motion toward the camera. Although you won’t actually be touching the patient, he will appreciate the thought and effort.
Be generous with up-and-down head nods. This action reassures your patient that you can hear and understand her. Your facial expression is also very important. Many people furrow their eyebrows while thinking, and this unintentionally makes them appear angry on camera. Sharing smiles and laughter often helps form a bond between doctor and patient. Obviously, there are times when smiling would be inappropriate- for example when a patient is telling a sad story.
Pay attention to your posture. Slumping in your chair sends a message that you are disinterested. Sit up straight. Leaning forward too much into the camera can relay an intimidating feeling for the patient. Leaning back too much makes you appear disinterested.
Be aware of your nonverbal cues, as they tend to be heightened on camera.
5. Ending the session well: The doctor should manage the session so that it does not end abruptly. An abrupt and unexpected end to a session can be disconcerting to the patient and leave them feeling abandoned. Therefore, it is wise to give yourself enough time to answer questions, educate them on the treatment plan, and inform them about what will happen next. This will help bring the session to a close gracefully.
The point of Telemedicine is to make patients feel better, right? Well, that all begins with a great “Webside Manner.”