Telehealth has taken the healthcare field by storm, and behavioral health is no exception. As an innovative method of healthcare delivery, telehealth was already a rising trend before the advent of COVID-19. Now the pandemic has cemented the popularity of telehealth with patients and providers alike. However, there have been some bumps in the road as patients become accustomed to this new way of receiving care.
So how can you ensure the patient has a great experience during their telehealth session? This question is especially important in the area of mental health. Psychiatrists and therapists are often dealing with mentally vulnerable patients and clients, so establishing trust and a human connection is critical. If the patient experience is negatively impacted by a telehealth session, the patient care will also suffer.
Here we discuss some basic ways of avoiding that scenario and creating the best possible telehealth patient experience.
Anticipate Technical Issues with Telehealth Sessions
Telehealth is only possible with the right technology and the ability to use it, which means that technical issues can be a barrier. Patients will have differing levels of comfort with this technology, and providers also need some level of tech-savvy. Anticipating technical hurdles is key to maximizing the patient experience.
Optimize Your Equipment
The provider should first ensure their own equipment is in good working order. The computer, camera and microphone should be tested beforehand to ensure that the provider and patient can see and hear each other clearly. A reliable internet connection with sufficient bandwidth is essential for live two-way video streaming. And of course, the patient should have these elements in place on their end.
Get Your Telehealth Software in Place
Also give careful consideration to the software that will be implemented. That software must be reliable and easy for the patient to use. The platform should also be secure and HIPAA-compliant – two things which notably cannot be said for many commonly used platforms like Zoom.
A practice should also consider whether its telehealth setup requires the patient to download software to their own computer. This is another burden for the patient and is likely to increase the chances of technical difficulties. A web-based portal that the patient can access may be a preferable option.
The telehealth platform should also have services available for troubleshooting and training. Some technical difficulties are bound to occur, so those challenges should be relatively easy to resolve.
Prepare the Patient Before the Telehealth Visit
As mentioned above, the practice should do its best to ensure the patient has the proper equipment and a strong internet connection. In addition, the practice can take steps to ensure the patient’s comfort with the virtual platform.
The patient could be sent a cheat sheet for the platform, possibly with screenshots of what they will see upon accessing the platform. A test visit before the actual telehealth visit, between the patient and the practice’s staff, could be an even more effective way to iron out any kinks in the process. And the patient should be advised on how to get assistance and troubleshooting advice when necessary.
Optimize the Setting and Personal Appearance
For the patient to feel comfortable during a telehealth session, the experience should be as close as possible to an in-person appointment. This means the setting and the provider’s personal appearance should match those expectations.
A professional setting is important, which includes having a clean and tidy location, whether that is at the practitioner’s office or a home office. The lighting should also be tested and optimized for internet viewing. Try to avoid common issues such as shadows or a light-filled window in the background.
For behavioral health in particular, most patients will want to see their provider in a private setting, so they feel safe. Accordingly, providers should avoid having open doors behind them, or any people walking back and forth. This is especially important if you are not using headphones for your telehealth sessions. The patient should feel confident it is just you and them, as it would be for an in-person visit.
A practitioner should also ensure their clothes and personal appearance are in line with patient expectations for an in-person visit. Combined with a professional setting, this sends the message that the practitioner takes this telehealth visit as seriously as any other appointment.
Ensure Great Mental Telehealth Patient Experience
Maintain Trust and Rapport During Virtual Visits
Establishing patient rapport is critical for in-person patient relationships, but especially for telehealth sessions. When the practitioner and patient are in different locations, extra care must be taken to maintain interpersonal connection and keep patients feeling safe and comfortable.
One step is to maintain eye contact (as much as your and your patients’ virtual visit setups will allow) and inform the patient when you need to look away from the screen, such as to take notes. The practitioner should also look at the camera, not the screen, when addressing the patient. Positioning the camera at eye level will make eye contact easier and more natural.
Some practitioners may also want to cut down on background noise by using headphones to listen to the patient. Dealing with noise that makes it difficult to communicate – for you or your patient – is a surefire threat to establishing and maintaining a strong interpersonal connection.
Use Patient Feedback for Long-Term Improvement
One of the best ways to determine whether your patients are satisfied with their telehealth experience is simple – ask them. The end of the telehealth session is often a good time to ask your patient’s opinion of virtual visits. After the visit, the practice can send the patient a request for a survey or review. Another option is periodic surveys sent to telehealth patients at regular intervals, such as every three months.
Practitioners can also analyze data from their telehealth visits to observe any trends, such as preferred times for the visits, the percentage of follow-up visits done via telehealth, or any increase or drop-off in telehealth requests.
Valant’s Telehealth Solution is Built for Optimal Patient Experience
Valant’s telehealth platform helps behavioral health practices optimize their telehealth patient experience. The platform is secure, HIPAA-compliant and easy to use, so you can focus on your patients, not the technology. Patients join telehealth sessions directly through the patient portal, so there’s no need for the patient to download a computer program or app, or search their email for meeting details. And during your sessions, you can view charts and take notes onscreen while staying face-to-face with your patients.
Request a personalized demo today, and find out how Valant’s telehealth solution can help create the ideal telehealth patient experience for your practice.