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How To Effectively Communicate With Patients During COVID-19 And Beyond

When I launched Treasure Coast Dermatology over fifteen years ago, I knew that patient education, advocacy, and proactive communication would be the cornerstone of my practice. Driven by the desire to maximize positive outcomes for patients with skin cancer and various skin conditions, I recognized the role that self-advocacy plays in the realm of Medical […]

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When I launched Treasure Coast Dermatology over fifteen years ago, I knew that patient education, advocacy, and proactive communication would be the cornerstone of my practice. Driven by the desire to maximize positive outcomes for patients with skin cancer and various skin conditions, I recognized the role that self-advocacy plays in the realm of Medical Dermatology. For many patients, their health and wellbeing relies on the ability to proactively spot changes, relay their concerns, and follow through with a healthcare plan. Thus, in the prevalent world of skin cancer, communication literally saves lives. 

I’ve never lost sight of that notion, and systematically went to great lengths to foster trusting long-term relationships with patients. I worked to ensure that they felt comfortable speaking with all staff members, felt heard and valued, and were routinely made aware of impactful changes, research, and options. As the foundation of my care efforts, effective communication has been a guiding facet throughout daily operations. Now that the COVID-19 has greatly impacted healthcare in general, and most aspects of a patient’s experience, effective communication is more crucial than ever. Below, I examine proactive ways to maximize outcomes, and maintain effectively therapeutic patient relationships.

Limit Distracting Tech

In a space where telemedicine and virtual visits are now the norm, limiting technological assistance may seem counterintuitive. Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly impacted in-person patient visits for many medical practitioners, driving the prevalence of telemedicine through the roof. This methodology has certainly allowed many more people to receive medical care in the safety of their own homes, and has been very helpful when navigating medical care in the midst of the pandemic. So, telemedicine is a wonderful tool, and a positive example of leveraging technology to benefit patients.

However, overuse of technology throughout the duration of an appointment can be distracting. Seeing medical professionals constantly typing away, and looking at computer screens, can make patients feel unheard. It can limit their confidence in speaking up about potential concerns. It can minimize their ability to successfully forge meaningful therapeutic relationships with healthcare providers. Thus, during this unprecedented time, it is vastly important to minimize the overuse of distracting technology.

For medical professionals providing care via telemedicine, maintaining a focus on the screen for a large part of the visit is integral to capturing a similar face-to-face experience. Thus, I recommend using tools to tape interactions, which can be transcribed into patient notes at a later time. This will eliminate the need to take extensive notes during the actual appointment, which can make patients feel even more disconnected from their healthcare professionals. 

Medical professionals who conduct in-person visits should also be aware of their use of potentially distracting technology. While it may be impossible to avoid usage of all technology throughout an appointment, maintaining mindfulness of the need to maximize face-to-face interaction in a safe manner is key. Prior to the onset of the pandemic, I engaged all patients in thorough face-to-face conversation, and avoided extensive tech usage throughout the duration of appointments, except when medically necessary. Instead of typing patient notes during the appointment, I dedicated this time to fostering therapeutic relationships, engaging in patient education, and championing patient self-advocacy. I wholeheartedly believe that this attention to communication has bestowed countless patients with the confidence to ask questions, believe in their treatment options and outcomes, and navigate skin safety effectively.

To elicit a similar outcome, medical professionals conducting in-person appointments can take advantage of various tools to eliminate distracting tech usage during appointments. For example, medical professionals can record patient visits and dictate their notes, to be transcribed at a later date. This eliminates the need to fill in extensive patient notes during the appointment, while still maintaining operational efficiency, and avoiding inconveniently excessive work. While this is only one method, there are certainly various tools available for medical practitioners to examine. From an operational standpoint, there are many tools that can create efficiencies while maximizing available face-to-face time with patients. The effects of proactively caring about this facet of the appointment are integral to patient success.

Troubleshoot New Procedures

The global onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted human behavior in every industry, across all platforms, and with varying degrees of adaptation needed. In the medical sector, professionals have certainly had to adapt to evolving guidelines, and practical applications of procedures to still maximize care. This has resulted in the need to swiftly adapt practices, seemingly at a moment’s notice. With so many changes, and newly implemented procedures, it is safe to say that things can go awry. For this reason, I have found it vitally important to troubleshoot all new procedures prior to administering them with patients.

This proactive approach allows medical professionals the opportunity to tweak any digitally based procedures as needed, and ensure appropriate working knowledge of new systems, procedures, and standards. By possessing a full scope of knowledge, medical professionals can assist patients as needed. In turn, this avoids the loss of invaluable interaction time spent on troubleshooting tech-based issues, or lack of preperation and materials needed to appropriately adhere to evolving standards and procedures. 

Provide Educational Opportunities

While face-to-face and in-person appointments may be somewhat limited in scope throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, medical providers can still take a proactive approach to patient education and advocacy. In my own experience, I have found that patients can sometimes lose track of the information exchanged during a visit. Often, they may be flustered, anxious, or otherwise emotionally impacted by ongoing concerns. Thus, I work proactively to arm patients with educational materials, supportive resources, and access to a wide breadth of resources to maximize a positive outcome. This goal can come in the form of providing patients with pertinent pamphlets and informational resources, website links and digital education resources, phone numbers and addresses to support groups, and ongoing post-appointment communication. 

Of course, since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve had to pivot the way in which I provide resources, and have had to ensure that resources are available for patients. For patients involved in telemedicine visits, I engage in a speedy follow-up to ensure they felt as though all of their questions were answered. Often, this elicits further questions that the patient was able to come up with after the completion of the appointment. Additionally, my staff sends informative emails, links to educational resources, and digital support groups and materials to engage patients with other individuals along similar paths to skin care wellness.

The Bottom Line

As healthcare continues to naturally evolve, and remains impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is the duty of healthcare officials to ensure that therapeutic patient relationships remain intact. While this certainly requires commitment, engenuity, and effort on behalf of the medical community, it is the most effective way to maximize patient outcomes. Effective communication, advocacy, and education within every facet of healthcare saves countless lives. When patients feel confident, heard, and valued, they are more likely to communicate potentially life changing concerns with their care teams. Thus, it is up to medical professionals to ensure the continuation of these therapeutic and communication-based relationships.

As I remain committed to my patients at Treasure Coast Dermatology, I continue to look for ways to ensure that all patients receive ample care, attention, and resources needed to care for their skin’s health and long-term wellness. By cutting back on distracting technology, whilst simultaneously relying on helpful technology to meet patient needs, I consistently work to foster an environment ripe for effective communication. By making a few well-considered pivots, medical professionals across all specialties can navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, and embrace the future.

Connect with Dr. Tim Ioannides on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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