Connecting with patients, family members, and colleagues in your practice is incredibly important. Positive connections profoundly impact patient outcomes and improve patient and clinician satisfaction—the more connected you feel, the happier you are.
Often, making these connections depends on physical proximity, the ability to meet in person for example. Expressing empathy by holding a patient’s hand when discussing their care, looking into a colleague’s eyes, and having face-to-face conversations regarding a patient’s condition helps cement a stronger bond between you and others. But how do you make these types of connections when practicing medicine virtually? As a telehospitalist, how do you convey compassion, kindness, and medical knowledge when you are not the in the same room as the patient?
These nine virtual “be”-attitudes from Dr. Keely Fischbach, VP of eHealth Clinical Operations and Eastern Hub Telenocturnist at SCP Health, can help.
5 Ways to Connect with Patients Virtually
1. Be Real
It’s important to engender trust in your clinical expertise, but don’t let a polished, professional demeanor keep you from being authentic with your patients. Create a connection by expressing emotion, and make it clear they should be comfortable showing theirs. Joke with them, if appropriate, cry, laugh. Let them see you are human, too.
Technically speaking, having adequate front lighting makes it easier for the patient to see your face clearly. Look directly at the camera; this helps achieve eye contact. It’s also best to have a neutral background to avoid distracting the patient from paying attention to you.
2. Be Empathetic
Show genuine concern for patient discomfort and complaints and acknowledge the challenges or hardships they’re going through. Don’t merely focus on physical symptoms but on holistic well-being instead.
Your patients need to be heard and understood, virtually or in person, regardless of where that interaction occurs. Don’t let technology impede making that personal connection.
3. Be Prepared
Read through any available patient history in advance to familiarize yourself with their current symptoms, diagnosis, and treatments. This approach reduces the need to look up information during the patient encounter, which can break the perceived connection.
Be prepared with thoughtful and important questions and listen to the answers. Also, reference notes from the patient history and colleagues to show your connection with the care team.
4. Be Collaborative
Know the names of the primary care physician (PCP) or other clinicians who may be caring for the patient, even if you can’t speak with them directly. Refer to these colleagues by name to give your patients the confidence you are invested in being a part of their care team. When applicable, check with colleagues on the care team before visiting a patient.
5. Be Constant
Tell patients when you are available, and check in with them regularly, if possible, or at least once or twice to follow up. Make sure your patient feels comfortable with the next steps in the care plan.
4 Ways to Connect with Colleagues Virtually
Working remotely can make it just as hard to feel like a part of the care team as it is to connect with patients. These four “be”-attitudes will enable you to bridge the connectivity gap.
1. Be Present
It’s easy to be distracted by another screen, your watch, or the phone when interacting with colleagues virtually. Don’t permit yourself to do that anymore than you would when meeting in-person. Stay in the moment and be present for as long and as much as possible to help strengthen relationships.
2. Be a Team Player
Do everything you can to pull your weight on the team, even if you’re working remotely. Take good notes with patients and copy other team members. Answer the call when your colleagues need assistance and reach out to them when you need support.
3. Be Open to Change
Altering established practice patterns is never easy, and remote work can be jarring, especially at first. Be flexible and keep an open mind when changing your processes. Also, be receptive to feedback from supervisors and colleagues and adjust your actions to make improvements as needed.
4. Be a Cheerleader
Don’t fall into the trap of connecting with colleagues only when something goes wrong. Intentionally reach out to celebrate successes, offer encouragement, and build relationships, personally and professionally.
While practicing medicine remotely differs from in person, it can be no less rewarding. It also offers many benefits in-person practices don’t. Greater scheduling flexibility, a shorter commute, more time spent with patients and family, and less chance of burning out are a few of the most important.