On the one hand, telecare is convenient because one does not have to drive to a medical facility and wait in line. On the other, many people believe that it is not the same as the time spent in a doctor’s office. After all, a traditional doctor’s appointment has always been based on personal contact, regardless of whether it is necessary to examine the patient. Many people who use telehealth services worry that the quality of the diagnosis or treatment will be lower. If they have to talk to an unknown doctor, which often happens in telemedicine, the feeling of discomfort is even stronger: the patient again must tell a stranger doctor about personal health problems.
Microphone, camera, light, doctor’s visit
The patient is visible in two dimensions on the computer screen and heard through a speaker. The doctor has to rely on information provided by the patient and the declared symptoms. Therefore, smooth communication determines the proper diagnosis and treatment.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine has become the dominant form of providing medical services. Many instructions and guidelines regarding telemedicine standards have been published. They raise the importance of the appropriate technical infrastructure (camera, microphone, Internet connection) and ambient conditions (lighting, background, clothing). The first telehealth appointment requires a different approach than later when a patient already knows how the system works. The doctor should also foresee potential technical problems and react to them, so they don’t dominate the interaction with the patient. Even the smallest details can matter: vocal intonation, facial expression, small moves—these are the only signals that the patient can receive. For example, when a doctor takes notes on their computer during an on-site visit, the patient participates in this process to a certain degree simply by being in the same room. When it comes to telehealth appointments, this situation may be uncomfortable. These are the basic guidelines, all of which can easily be found online.
Formalities, responsibilities and a relaxed atmosphere
Telecare services providers have also adapted their platforms to make the patient experience similar to a traditional appointment. When the patients log in on the telehealth platform, they are taken to a virtual waiting room. In this way, they have some time to prepare themselves, finish other tasks, and focus solely on the conversation with the doctor. Many elements which are obvious during a face-to-face conversation may not be that clear during a video call. The patient should confirm that they have understood the diagnosis and recommendations. The doctor should ask additional questions to make sure that all the information has been interpreted as intended.
Apart from all these formalities—which include explaining to the patient how to use the system, informing them about the available services and medical data safety, opportunities and limitations, providing technical instructions—the doctor should also ensure that the communication is seamless and the message is empathic. This can depend on technical aptitude, reasonable organization procedures, and communication skills. After all, the time spent in a virtual waiting room is twice as irritating as in a real one.
Telecare is more than an on-site visit transferred to the virtual conditions
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine is not only used more often, but it is also maturing quickly. New standards for the digital patient experience are being developed. The goal is not to create an ideal virtual copy of the appointments in a doctor’s office but to build an entirely new healthcare system in which contact with the doctor is just one of the interconnected elements of care.
As health platforms continue to develop and telehealth devices gain in popularity – especially among chronically ill patients – the role of preventive services is also growing. Measuring and analyzing health parameters makes it possible to check the health condition in real-time and react to the first deviations in vital signs. In a system where the doctor’s appointments are reserved for patients who require more attention, we need systems that analyze the patients’ data and advise them on chronic illnesses and preventive medicine. An essential role in the “healthcare hybrid model” plays nurses—the first contact points for patients. Broader use of the nurses’ skills makes it possible to restore the human factor in modern and empathic health care.
First examples of the new healthcare model are there
In the current health care model, the capabilities of telemedicine are limited. However, when it is included in the patient’s new path and supported by health telemonitoring technologies, it will become a pillar of a more flexible and personalized healthcare system.
The first start-ups, such as Forward from the USA, have already begun implementing this new approach. Modern clinics run by Forward focus on prevention, regular health checks, and achieving the patient’s long-term goals rather than treatment. It is a harbinger of the kind of changes for which patients have been waiting a long time, and they don’t get it from present healthcare providers. The telemedicine that patients experience nowadays is a traditional medicine wrapped in a virtual package. The COVID-19 pandemic encourages us to redesign healthcare systems and go for a hybrid model, making the best use of the medical workers’ skills automating procedures wherever possible.