With the growing use of telehealth tools like secure video conferencing, text therapy, and remote monitoring, healthcare providers have been tasked with developing their “webside manner.”
As with the traditional “bedside manner”, developing an effective webside manner goes a long way in ensuring the client is confident and comfortable at every stage of your virtual interaction. There are steps to consider prior to, during, and following a virtual care interaction that will allow you to communicate as effectively with your client as if you were in the same room.
Before the virtual interaction:
Familiarize yourself with the technology. Let’s take an online video appointment as an example. By the time of your scheduled appointment, be sure to take advantage of any training or online resources offered by the technology provider. Having a basic overview of the process that not only yourself, but your client will follow is extremely useful if any questions arise.
Ensure your hardware is in working order. Take the time to ensure your webcam, microphone, speakers, and any other hardware devices required for your virtual interaction are set up and ready to be used. Again, contacting your technology provider’s support team is a great place to start if you are unsure.
Create a professional working space and eliminate distractions. In the same way that you prepare your office for an in person appointment, take a moment to consider your surroundings. Find somewhere that you can be seated comfortably without any distractions (i.e. people or screens in the background, ringing telephones, etc.) It goes without saying that your client’s privacy should remain a top priority regardless of whether your interaction takes place in person or online.
During the virtual interaction:
Introduce yourself and set the tone for the virtual interaction. In the same way you would for an in person appointment, take a moment to set the tone for the interaction. What do you hope to accomplish today? Will you be sharing additional resources such as online homework exercises?
Consider your facial expressions and body language. Remember that facial expressions and body language can be amplified in a virtual interaction. During an online video appointment, be sure to maintain eye contact with your client. If you will be taking notes, consider letting your client know that you will be looking away from the screen periodically to do so.
Keep an eye on the time. As with an in person appointment, it’s best to avoid ending an appointment abruptly. It may be worth noting that your first virtual interaction with a client may start a few minutes late as you both navigate a new process, take this into account to avoid feeling rushed. Setting the expectation with your client to allow a few extra minutes of “set up” time prior to your first virtual interaction goes a long way in ensuring a successful interaction.
Communicate next steps to your client. Before ending the interaction, take a few moments to consider what was accomplished and what are the next steps. When should your client be expecting an e-mail invitation for the next virtual interaction? Will you or have you already shared any secure file attachments to be completed or reviewed prior to the next interaction?
After the virtual interaction:
Follow up with your client as needed. If there were any questions or concerns during the virtual interaction, know who to contact or who to direct your client to contact (i.e. the support team of your technology provider, an online support forum, etc.) prior to the next interaction.
The most important thing to remember with any interaction, online or off, is to communicate effectively with your client. Whether it’s your first virtual interaction or your two hundredth, don’t let the technology throw you off! Think of technology as a way to augment the existing relationship you have with your client.