With the NHS beginning to turn the tide against Covid 19, many trusts will now be turning their efforts to returning to a ‘normal service’ and resuming delayed outpatient appointments with virtual consultations.
However, ever since the Covid 19 pandemic reached our shores here in the UK, the entire NHS has focused on re-purposing and redeploying its healthcare workers and resources to beat the spread of the virus. As a result, the entire health service is now experiencing a huge backlog of routine and specialist appointments – many of which patients had already been waiting for some time and could affect millions of people.
Luckily, the rise in virtual consultations is just one example of how an emergency measure is now shaping up to be a vital ongoing resource – both in the continued fight against Covid 19 and in resuming normal operations.
Maintaining Exceptional Levels of Care in a Virtual World
Many patients who’ve had a virtual consultation report their experience to be virtually (no pun intended) the same as a normal face-to-face appointment. In fact, 21% have reported their experiences exceeding a traditional surgery-based appointment; so they’re clearly an effective method of reaching patients and carrying out assessments.
There are some legitimate concerns and misconceptions, though. Many of these centre around two core issues, which are:
- The safety and security of conducting potentially sensitive medical consultations remotely, and
- Patients feeling they need a face-to-face visit or examination so their concerns or symptoms are fully acknowledged.
With Covid 19 here for the long term and virtual consultations now aiding the NHS on the road to recovery, every medical professional who conducts a virtual appointment needs to take some simple steps to ensure their effectiveness – both for the patient and of course themselves:
Step 1: Check Both Your Equipment and Your patient’s is Up to Scratch
We’ve all experienced the inconvenience and frustration of a terrible phone reception during an important call or Wi-Fi dropping out. Virtual consultations are perhaps the absolute worst time for electronic gremlins or technical glitches to rear their ugly heads; so, take some time to ensure your equipment and connections are up to the job.
The same goes for your patients; after all, they may not have access to video conferencing facilities, perhaps only have a basic internet service or experience poor mobile phone network coverage. Despite your best efforts, if either end of the consultation suffers from network quality issues, it’ll detract from the overall experience and reduce the quality appointment.
To avoid this, before arranging a virtual consultation, check that your patients have the necessary facilities and internet connection to have an effective online consultation.
Step 2: Ensure Your Staff Are Confident Conducting Consultations
For GP surgeries, clinicians and advanced clinicians may well be taking the bulk of initial patient assessments. With this in mind, it’s important to check that all staff are confident and prepared to conduct virtual consultations.
Ideally, all medical patient-facing staff at a hospital or medical centre should be trained on your chosen consultation platform and any of the associated equipment. They should also be familiar and knowledgeable on how to conduct the entire virtual visit; from initial sign-on to logging-off. If everyone is well-versed on the applications, they’ll be able to give their full attention to their patients – which brings us nicely onto…
Step 3: Be Prepared!
Yes, it may seem like school kid stuff here, but always keep in mind the three P’s: Preparation, preparation… PREPARATION!
Successful virtual consultations can only truly be achieved when both parties are comfortable with the virtual visit and confident with the technology and security being used. Medical professionals should ensure their familiarity with their patient records and health histories – especially when it comes to virtual first-timers!
Of course, the degree of familiarity will vary, depending on the nature of the virtual visit – whether it’s an initial consultation, an emergency or a specialist outpatients’ appointment. The more a doctor is able to understand about a patient, the more comfortable and productive the consultation is likely to be.
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Step 4: Be Attentive and Empathetic
A virtual consultation should give both patients and medical professional the same feeling as being in a room together. So, when conducting a virtual appointment, the medical professional should give their patients their undivided attention.
Try to only look away from the camera when you’re entering notes or data into a patient’s files or to look up any related information. If you do have to break away from your camera, let the patients know that’s what is happening – this will reassure them that their clinician or GP is not juggling multiple tasks or not interested in their problems.
Remember, patients may feel anxious about sharing information in a virtual setting; so taking the time to be attentive to their concerns and paying close attention to their requirements can ensure any virtual consultation delivers the right outcomes.
Step 5: Use a Trusted, Secure and Reliable Virtual Consultation Platform
It’s true that the technology behind virtual consultations is very similar to more common video conferencing; but using a dedicated virtual consultation platform can be far more rewarding and intuitive – elevating the patient experience and maintaining an exceptional level of patient care.
For example, our Clinical Services team offers a virtual consultation service which is far more than just a video conference platform: it’s a full consultation strategy and ongoing support that’s developed to work as an extension of your department and managed in partnership – not just handing you a platform and letting you get on with it!
As an ISO9001-accredited business, we also have a robust and secure implementation process and are able to mobilise any virtual consultation service quickly – within just two-weeks, in fact. And, with a wealth of functionality and triaging services that unlock vital efficiencies and allow patient pathways to be continually managed, our platform doesn’t just provide a vital appointment service; but ensure waiting lists and referrals are reduced, too.
Step 6: Summarise and Confirm Next Steps
All patients should feel like their virtual consultation has been worthwhile and they’re fully aware of what the next steps can potentially be. The best way to do this is to summarise the key points of your consultation and confirm what happens next. Ideally, try to give some estimated timescales so your patient feels confident their needs will not be forgotten or put to the bottom of a pile!
Summarising your consultation and confirming next steps also acts as a good ‘full stop’ to the consultation. Don’t just end an appointment abruptly and move onto your next job; take the time to close your conversation and make a point of finishing on a positive – this may be the abiding memory of the experience for your patient, so ensuring it’s ended on a positive, friendly manner is a must!
If you’re an NHS trust interested us supporting your road to recovery we can help you with bespoke insourcing services across all specialities for both elective care and outpatient services – including virtual consultations
In the last 12-months, we’ve treated over 13,000 patients and IDMCS are immensely proud of our overall 97% patient satisfaction feedback score. Want to know more? We’d be delighted to speak with you – just give us a call on 01908 525 726 and we’ll be happy to help. Alternatively, just hit the link below to learn more about our dedicated Clinical Services.