Caring for Patients Through a Screen

Discover the benefits of treating patients remotely and get tips for succeeding in this new healthcare frontier.

Virtual Visits Are the New Normal for Many Types of Care

As we continue to work through the pandemic and the physician shortage, virtual visits and other telehealth services are becoming a more prominent part of almost all physician jobs — from primary care and family medicine jobs to specialty roles at hospitals. Some hospital systems, especially in rural areas, list 100 percent telemedicine jobs for physicians who can provide specialty care from afar.

The Difference Between Telehealth and Telemedicine

These terms are often used interchangeably; however, they have different meanings. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), telehealth is different from telemedicine in that it encompasses a broader scope of remote healthcare services, while telemedicine includes only remote clinical services.

Telehealth is defined by the CDC and the Health Resources & Services Administration as “the use of electronic information and telecommunication technologies to support and promote long-distance clinical healthcare, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration.”

Telehealth Is Perfect for Nonurgent Issues or Patient Screenings

There’s certainly a limit to what types of care physicians can provide through a tablet or computer. For bloodwork, important tests or certain physical examinations, only in-person visits will do. But virtual visits can be a convenient way to see patients for straightforward follow-ups or check-ins.

Here are some types of visits that can be handled virtually:

  • Requests for Refills
  • Check-ins for Certain Musculoskeletal Issues
  • Discussions About Insomnia, Depression or Anxiety
  • Discussions About Abnormal Lab Results
  • Treatment for Skin Rashes
  • Discussions About Diet and Exercise

For More Complex Virtual Diagnoses, New Technologies Can Help

The success of telehealth is greatly aided by new technologies that can screen patients and assist with remote testing. The Digital Innovation Group of our parent company, Providence, has been working on exciting advancements, including remote Cardiology analysis and other life-saving telehealth technologies for rural patients.

Dr. Mahmud Al Furgani recently began a position as a telehospitalist with Providence. Telehospitalists are critical for rural hospitals, helping patients avoid travel or experience long waits for important treatments.

Dr. Al Furgani’s primary mode of virtual care is unique in that his patients physically go to a medical facility and interface with nurses there, while he consults with them from his home. A nurse uses a telepresenter to facilitate Dr. Furgani’s examination, diagnosis and treatment from the hospital exam room.

Grace, The Chatbot, Eases the Stress of Screenings During COVID-19

When it comes to screening symptoms before treatments even begin, artificial intelligence has proved useful. Providence built an AI chatbot named Grace in 2018 to help point patients to the right clinician based on symptoms for nonurgent issues, like UTIs or colds. In the spring of 2020, however, Grace was tweaked to help manage the influx of patients asking about coronavirus symptoms.

Grace can understand the nuances of the English language and is able to tell a person whether or not they should be tested for COVID-19 based on their symptoms and who they’ve been in contact with. As a result, overworked nurse practitioners are relieved of the added burden of screening hundreds of thousands of potential coronavirus cases.

The Pros and Cons of Telehealth

Once a reliable technological solution is established, virtual visits can be incredibly convenient for patients and can increase revenue for health systems. But providing care digitally does present some challenges.

The Pros:

  • Patients are more often on time for their appointments.
  • A smoother transition between patients means it’s easier to stay on schedule.
  • Visits tend to be faster and run more smoothly.
  • Physicians can provide care without risk of infection.
  • Virtual visits are more cost effective for clinics, physicians and patients.

The Cons:

  • Reading body language and establishing a relationship may be more difficult.
  • The onus is on patients to be more articulate in describing their symptoms.
  • Certain conditions require a physical examination for diagnosis and treatment.
  • Troubleshooting technological issues can cause frustration for patients and physicians.

Tips for Providing Great Virtual Care

Dr. Furgani says that during his virtual visits, eye contact takes on a higher level of importance, especially during the pandemic. “The COVID experience for patients, it makes them anxious, but it’s more than that. There is a lot of fear,” he says. He recommends trying to ease some of that fear by making good eye contact and treating every patient with warmth and kindness. He also recommends getting to know the technology you’ll be using to help prevent any tech-related errors.

Telehealth Checklist for Physicians

Follow this list to set yourself up for successful virtual visits with patients:

  • Make sure you have a consistent and strong internet connection.
  • Advocate for a video call platform that is user friendly for patients.
  • Make a list of medical complaints that require a physical exam, so you can filter those patients out and set them up with an in-person visit.
  • Maintain strong eye contact and pay attention to patients’ body language and emotions.
  • Stay positive, confident and reassuring in your demeanor while on camera.

It may be hard at first to foster patient confidence in telehealth services, whether it’s a chatbot or a video call. But according to a J.D. Power consumer study, once patients do get on board, their satisfaction ranks extremely high. Even before the pandemic ramped up in the United States, telehealth was an industry slated to grow.

In one form or another, virtual care is here to stay. If you’re interested in telemedicine physician jobs, search our jobs page for positions in telehealth or contact a physician recruiter today to learn more.