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Care & Touch - Bringing empathy while consulting with a patient through telemedicine

There is a marked rise in demand for services and products that use technology and limit human to human interaction.

Social distancing practices prevalent in these times of pandemic have resulted in a continuous rise in tech-based solutions for a multitude of problems and challenges, including healthcare. There is a marked rise in demand for services and products that use technology and limit human to human interaction. Telemedicine is one such service that has seen a very significant rise since the pandemic.  At home healthcare services like telemedicine and at-home health checkups have emerged as an effective and sustainable solution not just to tackle the pandemic but also provide essential medical services to the patients from the safety and comfort of their home. These services were already on the rise even before the pandemic hit. But currently, their reach has expanded exponentially.

However, there are challenges to this meteoric rise. Maintaining the doctor-patient relationship, which is the cornerstone of the primary healthcare system and delivering care remotely are obstacles that technology is still trying to scale. To ensure that the element of personal connection and involvement remains there are a few things that can be done

Optimising the communication space

While technology is ably filling the gap in absence of direct interaction, there are some inherent issues it comes with. Mechanical and technical glitches, audio problems, connection errors, etc can ruin the experience and cause the patient to feel frustrated. A significant number of people are still not well versed in the latest technologies employed for telemedicine; a digital interaction might already be a cause of concern for such patients as they may feel frustrated with their lack of knowledge in this field. Technical glitches and issues can compound this problem and mar the patient experience and impact clinical outcomes. In such a case, the doctors can take the initiative to make the patient feel comfortable and assist them to the extent possible in making sure that the space is optimized for a proper interaction, this can be done by walking them throughthe process of a consultation setup, addressing any problems they might be facing with relevant solutions, etc.

Personalising Healthcare

Traditionally, a large part of relationship building in any business scenario was face-to-face interaction; this fact stands even truer for doctor-patient interactions because there is a physical as well as psychological need for proximity, to deliver better care and diagnosis. The concept of 'family doctors' emerges from the simple fact that patients trust these doctors to administer correct treatment and also care about them genuinely. In the current scenario, where interactions are limited to a digital device, and the relationship is largely absent, personalising each interaction and establishing a connection with each patient is key - something as simple as greeting someone or enquiring about their lives and offering some insights into your own, bringing humour to the situation can go a long way in creating an atmosphere where the patient feels comfortable.

Establishing Patient needs

While patients seek medical advice and care from doctors for explicit reasons, there may be underlying issues and questions as well which they may be hesitant to share. Also, in a lot of instances the patient may not share detailed information about their condition due to discomfort and hesitancy that stems from embarrassment about certain conditions. In a face-to-face sitting such concerns can be alleviated by the doctor by noticing verbal and non-verbal cues and responding accordingly. In a telemedicine consultation this might not be possible; hence, asking open ended questions can encourage more meaningful conversation. 

Empathy in communication

Outside of healthcare, empathy means an emotional resonance or an affective way of understanding someone's situation. However, in a clinical setting empathy is a way to attune to the patient’s feelings and responding accordingly while they are sharing information. To ensure that a patient feels satisfied, it is essential to pay attention to both verbal information and behavioural aspects and understand the underlying emotions. Listening carefully and understanding emotional cues without interruptions can lead to better diagnostic assessment and establish respect for the patient. 

Careful listening can enable the doctor to deliver an empathetic response. Paying attention to both content and emotion can enable a better understanding of the physical and psychological needs of the patient and thereby lead to better clinical outcomes.

Information sharing

The combination of non-verbal communication barriers and physical distance that is intrinsic to telemedicine elevates the importance of clear information sharing. Technological glitches and extremely technical terms can make interaction and understanding difficult for the patients. Medical terms and explanations may prove difficult for most patients - employing a simple way of explaining things, pausing to check assimilation, and asking questions to check understanding can help in achieving better results for both the patient and the doctor.

Maintaining a communication channel

An essential part of successful treatment and establishing a long term connection is maintaining a communication channel. This first part of a better communication channel between the patient and the doctor is the follow up, in most face-to-face settings doctors advise the patient for a follow up visit to assess the success of the treatment and determine if any alternative treatment plans are necessary. The second part would be to provide a direct communication line to the patient in the form of a phone number or an email id where the patient can reach out to the doctor with queries or concerns. Even in a telemedicine consultation these steps can be implemented to create a better rapport with the customer and assure them of care.

A virtual interaction may not completely replace the human element of an in-person health care encounter. However, in the current scenario, it is the best alternative for delivering essential services, even in the long term when the threat of the pandemic is absent it is highly probable that tech based solutions like telemedicine, online consultation, online pharmacies, etc will be the 'new normal'. Thus, it is imperative that healthcare providers and workers work towards creating an environment where the gap between technology and the ways of engagement can be reduced and patient care can be delivered conveniently.


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Telemedicine Social Distancing

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