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Telepresence: The Key To Optimized Virtual Patient Experience

Updated: Jun 20

Chart of male bald heads

In my first few telemedicine calls, I saw more instances of male pattern baldness than a hair transplant center would see. Inevitably, the specialist would look me in the “eye” for an introduction and then immediately look down at my records and click in scripting as I answered questions regarding my condition. When the call ended I could see his eye again to hear him say, “Let’s set up another call in 2 months”.

As we know, telemedicine exploded during the worst of times of the pandemic. Providers spent millions deploying these technologies and teaching clinicians how to use the hardware and interface.

Few actually taught their clinicians and physicians the “telepresence” skills necessary for a satisfying patient engagement.

I define see telepresence as the ability to develop a personal connection with the client in a way that the telemedicine experience actually replicates the best aspects of an in-person appointment.

Truth be told, in-person experiences are not always satisfying from an interpersonal communications point of view. So it is rare that telemedicine would magically enhance an already-weak bedside manner.

For example, when my 93-year-old mother sees her specialist, in the office accompanied by my sister, the doctor looks at my sister when giving advice “to” my mother, resulting in my sister saying “Mom’s sitting right next to you, say it to HER”. One could argue that telemedicine could improve that interaction given that eye contact width is different on a laptop or iPad, but I doubt it.

In the decades I’ve spent in healthcare technology, I’m very well aware of how difficult deploying new technologies can be especially in industries where generational issues and egos can have a dramatic effect on acceptance. Add to this the ability to train clinicians on how to use these technologies (platforms and communications skills) entirely remotely, during a period of extreme social distancing was an enormous challenge. And lest we forget the extreme workforce and workflow pressure like no other time in modern medical history.

But despite these challenges, telemedicine flourished and despite some recent dips, it will continue to be a key alternative to in-person patient engagement.

Ironically, it is interesting to note however that patients like telemedicine more than most clinicians.


The most obvious is the convenience for patients.

But more interesting is that if patients have a bad telemedicine experience it is just one engagement in one day. When doctors have bad experiences with these virtual technologies it can happen a dozen times on the same day over 5 days a week.

So what can healthcare enterprises do to optimize the telemedicine experience by enhancing telepresence in a post-pandemic environment? Here are five that come to mind.

1. Dream Team - Build a “telepresence dream team” across your staff comprised of power users who have developed their own virtual best practices to make telemedicine even more effective than in-person visits. This can even evolve into an awards program for the most effective uses of these technologies. These teams should also include HR, IT, PX, Quality Assurance Corporate Communications, and leadership so that they can get a view into what works and what doesn’t.

2. Patient Involvement - Providers always pay lip service to bringing real live patients into strategy and innovation, but because of the nature of telemedicine patient involvement is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. Leverage patient focus groups or Patient Family Advisory Councils (PFACs), both live and on the platform to discuss strengths and weaknesses they’ve experienced in these engagements.

3. Formal Training -Because of the proliferation of the hybrid and distributed workforce, there are many training companies that now focus specifically on communications in virtual settings like Zoom or Webex. Keep in mind that these communication skills can be equally important between colleagues as they are with patients and their families.

4. Vendor Support – Many of the collaborative platform vendors have developed master classes that highlight best practices that their customers use around the world. While these may not be PX-specific many of them are transferable to healthcare. I’ve especially enjoyed many of the Zoomtopia sessions, keeping in mind that the techniques can be used on other platforms as well.

5. It’s not Just Video – While it's somewhere outside the scope of this blog, keep in mind that telepresence has now expanded to texting and email. A significant number of patients say that they would prefer text over email, live, and telemedicine. One only needs to communicate with a teen or millennial to know that this can be more of an art than science. As you gather best practices for telepresence, do the same for texting techniques.

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