Reaching Rural Patients Through Telehealth
Telehealth has seen rapid growth both before and following the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to its convenience, more patients are interested in telehealth for increased access, safety, and efficiency.
One of the most crucial elements of successful clinical outcomes is the doctor-patient relationship. Although face-to-face interactions between physicians and patients are ideal, telehealth can give patients access to care where conventional services are inaccessible. Telehealth is incredibly valuable in cases involving specialists who are challenging for rural hospitals and clinics to retain.
Unfortunately, patients in rural areas often don’t have the same access to high-quality medical care, be it a family health center or a VA hospital. However, telehealth is making it easier for those patients to receive the attention and care they need. Patients can save over 100 minutes of time with telehealth compared to in-office visits, and they can attend virtual appointments right at home where they’re most comfortable.
If you want to reach rural patients with your telehealth services, the following are some best practices to build relationships with people in these areas.
Have a Good Web-side Manner
When connecting with rural patients, you need to establish a good presence—approach it the same way you would a virtual job interview while remaining personable. Consider that improved patient satisfaction scores are the biggest point of ROI for healthcare executives, and a good bedside manner is a huge part of that. Taking certain steps to practice good virtual bedside manners can go a long way in making patients comfortable with you.
Use a Strong Wi-Fi Connection
Make sure you’re connected to Wi-Fi for a stable connection before the appointment. Disconnections are often inconvenient and frustrating, but they can also be stressful for patients who need explanations or reassurance.
Check Your Lighting
It’s also essential to have the appropriate lighting to make your patients comfortable. Patients should be able to see you clearly, and the environment should still come across as professional, but it may be best to avoid making them feel like they’re in a fluorescent-lit facility.
Review the Patient’s Chart in Advance
It’s also best to review your patient’s chart in advance, which can help you go into appointments prepared and show your patients that you’ve taken the time to understand them and their concerns.
Wear your ID badge and other pieces of your uniform to give patients the sense that they’re in the office.
Sit at the Center of the Frame
Your patients should also get a clear view of you. Before starting the appointment, check to see if you’re properly centered in the frame and not sitting too close or far from the camera.
Eliminate Background Distractions
Your appointment should also benefit from the same lack of distractions experienced in a professional setting. Conduct the appointment in an area of the home or another private space where noises and visual distractions won’t interrupt you at any point.
Maintain HIPAA Compliance
You also need to make sure you are HIPAA compliant by confirming that the patient explicitly approves of anyone else in the room with them.
Have a Backup Plan
To prevent anything from going wrong and putting an abrupt, unexpected end to an appointment, always have a backup plan in place.
Have a Backup Video Solution
If the service you’re using, such as Zoom, somehow fails and leads to a poor connection or complete disconnection, have another video solution ready. There are plenty of services out there that facilitate telehealth video conferencing.
Get the Patient’s Phone Number for a Phone Appointment
In the event of connection issues on either end, virtual video conferencing may not be available at all. In these cases, you should have a phone number available to reach the patient for a video call, provided both parties’ phones have cameras.
Encourage Patients to Speak Up
It’s also important to empower patients by encouraging them to speak up if they don’t understand something and need you to repeat it. Any miscommunication could hurt your relationship with the patient and prevent the patient from following crucial medical advice.
Remain Patient and Light-hearted
In the face of technical issues at any point during the appointment, handle them with grace. Practice patience, composure, and humor when appropriate.
Have an In-depth Conversation
It would be best to ask patients about their specific goals, preferences, and priorities to better understand their concerns and lifestyles. While it’s important for medical professionals to give plenty of advice and information, it’s just as vital for them to practice active listening.
When speaking with your patients and encouraging their input, you can:
- Summarize what patients are saying to show your understanding
- Ask questions to clarify points that patients are trying to make
- Avoid interrupting patients when they’re speaking
- Use open-ended questions that can encourage more comprehensive answers and explanations
- Share with your patients in the decision-making process
- Express empathy in your tone of voice and show that you understand what they’re experiencing
- Have the patient repeat the plan to ensure they understand it
- Provide follow-up contact information
Work with VISTA to Connect with Rural Patients
With as many as 20% of Americans living in rural areas with no healthcare access, telehealth is one of the best innovations to come along. When communicating with telehealth patients, it’s essential to establish the same quality of care you would with patients in the office. By practicing exceptional virtual bedside manners, having backup plans in the event of connection issues, and actively listening to your patients, you can build trust and a long-term doctor-patient relationship.
VISTA is here to help you learn more about how to get started in telehealth and connect with patients who depend on it. By partnering with VISTA, you can find a telehealth opening and begin using this technology to make a difference in rural communities. To get started, visit our job board today and start your search for the perfect opportunity.