Telemedicine is an increasingly important part of patient care. Both now and into the future, telehealth services, whether video consultations with patients or conference calls with specialists, are something that doctors and other healthcare professionals need to be capable of delivering professionally. Here’s how to make sure you’re set up.
But first, a disclaimer. This is about the technology—the medical expertise is all you. You’ll learn about the technical, the software and the presenting side of things, but your use of it must comply with all applicable federal and state regulations. All the software discussed here is HIPPA compliant, but for telehealth services, be sure to follow all rules and regulations required of your healthcare practice.
Selecting teleconferencing software
While you might be most familiar with FaceTime, Skype and Zoom, you can’t just start consulting with patients using the free versions of those apps. They’re not HIPPA compliant, for one thing, but they also don’t offer a lot of useful, clinician-specific features like appointment scheduling, a custom waiting room or easy patient and billing management.
Selecting a teleconferencing software can seem complicated, but it really comes down to a matter of personal preference. Almost any healthcare-professional focused teleconferencing software, like Doxy.me or Chiron Health, will get the job done and keep your patient information safe—you just might end up paying for features you don’t need or use. Consider which option best fits your budget and clinical situation and integrates most easily with your existing systems. And, if you really like Zoom, take a look at the Zoom for Healthcare option.
Most telemedicine software has a full sales team behind it, so sign up for a demo or a free trial with two or three that seem like the best fit for you. Then bombard the sales rep with all the questions you have to make sure the software does what you want it to and has the after-market support you need. Once you start using one service, it gets much harder to change, so it’s worth taking the time to get it right before you buy.
The technical setup
Finding the right software is just the first step toward teleconferencing with your patients. You also need to make sure you’ve got the technical setup to do it smoothly and without any glitches.
One of the most important things is a fast, stable internet connection. A fiber connection at the top speed available to you is ideal, as it will give you the quickest possible upload speeds with a rock-solid connection, but any high-speed commercial connection should work.
It’s best to connect the computer you’re using for teleconferencing directly to your router over Ethernet. A wireless connection just isn’t as quick or reliable. If you have to use one, though, make sure you aren’t too far from an access point and that your connection is well configured.
Even if your computer has a built-in webcam, get a high-quality external one—like this model from Logitech—for more professional-looking video. If you’ve got a nice, bright window—face it. Otherwise, it’s worth investing in a ring light. It will give you consistent lighting so you look good for all of your consultations, whether they’re first thing in the morning or after hours.
With all this said, the sound quality of the call is more important than the video quality. Your patients have to be able to hear you clearly. A good wireless headset microphone looks professional and lets you move naturally and stays comfortable for hours.
How to consult over video
Appearing professional over video-conferencing apps is a skill that comes with time and practice, but there are some things you can get right from the start.
Position your webcam at your eye level and look directly at it, not the computer screen, whenever you’re speaking. This makes it appear as if you’re maintaining eye contact with your patient (or the other doctors) and makes you look more confident.
Wear a small amount of makeup—even if you’re a man. A light dusting of translucent powder will take the shine off your face from any lights and make your setup look more professional.
Practice using all the features you intend to use of your telemedicine software before taking any calls. You want to be able to quickly find patient files, share your screen or schedule a follow-up appointment. No one wants to see their doctor struggle to navigate an app while in the middle of a consultation.
Be aware that your patient’s internet connection might not be as good as yours. Be prepared to switch to audio only if you need to. Also, there might be a lag between you saying something and your patient hearing it, so make sure to leave a brief pause after you speak to give them time to respond.
Treat telehealth consultations like in-person consultations. Schedule them properly, choose a private location so you won’t be interrupted and mute any notifications on your smartphone or computer.
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