Establish a personal connection with your patient: Clinicians have an opportunity right when they come on the camera to smile, state their name, ask them their name. That first minute is great to break the ice, acknowledge the newness of it all and establish a personal connection. Sometimes virtual visits allow us to engage in a more personal way than in the office where there tends to be more hustle and bustle.
One of the consequences of the pandemic is the dramatic growth of Telehealth and Telemedicine. But how can doctors and providers best care for their patients when they are not physically in front of them? What do doctors wish patients knew in order to make sure they are getting the best results even though they are not actually in the office? How can Telehealth approximate and even improve upon the healthcare that traditional doctors’ visits can provide?
In this interview series, called “Telehealth Best Practices; How To Best Care For Your Patients When They Are Not Physically In Front Of You” we are talking to successful Doctors, Dentists, Psychotherapists, Counselors, and other medical and wellness professionals who share lessons and stories from their experience about the best practices in Telehealth. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rebecca Love.
Rebecca Love RN, MSN, FIEL, is a nurse executive, entrepreneur, and the first nurse featured on Ted.com. Rebecca designed and built the first nurse innovation program in the United States at Northeastern University. Currently, she is the Principal of Clinical Innovation at OptimizeRx where she helps connect the dots at the intersection between provider, patient and the life sciences. As the clinician on the team, she leverages her experience to help design digital messaging programs and products that add true value for clients, patients, and providers.
Rebecca is also co-founder and president of the Society of Nurse Scientists, Innovators, Entrepreneurs & Leaders (SONSIEL), a non-profit that quickly attained recognition by the United Nations as an Affiliate Member. Rebecca is an advisory board member for leading digital health startups, has co-authored two books, founded and sold a company, and co-founded two others that she’s still involved with. Rebecca is passionate about empowering healthcare providers and building communities to help nurses innovate, create, and collaborate to start businesses and inventions to transform healthcare.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Nursing was a second career choice for me as I was planning to attend law school. My mother, who was a nurse her entire career, said, “There are plenty of great lawyers in the world, but we need strong women to come in and re-define the nursing profession.” She was concerned about what she was seeing in the profession, particularly about the lack of career mobility and high rate of burnout for nurses. I applied to nursing school and was told there was a two-year waiting list, but I was suddenly accepted three weeks later. After nursing school, I dove in and became nurse practitioner in a variety of areas including primary care, hospice care and long-term care management.
After spending part of my career in nursing, I became a professor of nursing in Boston and fell in love with teaching. That was when I came across my first business idea. My nursing students could not find jobs while my hospice patients couldn’t find nursing care, and as a result, they were dying in long-term care communities when they wanted to die at home. I started to explore why there wasn’t a platform that connected nurses with those who wanted to hire them. My mom gave me the financial and emotional support to go on that journey and build HireNurses.com — a platform to connect nurses with those looking to hire them.
There is one North Star that I stick to: trying to help millions of nurses achieve their dreams and become innovators to transform healthcare. If we can do that, we can accomplish something monumental for the future of healthcare. I am currently the Principal of Clinical Innovation at OptimizeRx. Our CEO, Will Febbo, recognized the importance and value of having a clinician on the team to use real-life, human experience to inform and enhance our digital health platform solutions. I use my experience on the front lines of care to help translate the needs of both patients and providers into actionable insights. Today, my experience as a clinician helps us design programs for our life sciences clients to help them support clinicians and patients better through programs that understand and take their experience into account.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
During that time of starting a company I had a random moment of luck. Luck is one of those things that any entrepreneur can tell you will help you get through. I stumbled upon a hackathon experience that changed my entire view of the value of nursing over the course of one weekend. I learned more about the business of healthcare in that weekend than I had learned in years of trying to start a company. After that experience I went out and searched the marketplace for nurse-lead hackathons and there were none. I connected with the dean of Northeastern University at the time, Dr. Nancy Hanrahan, and told her about my experience at this hackathon. At that time, nobody was talking about nurses as innovators or entrepreneurs and there wasn’t any research on the topic. Nancy offered me the opportunity to host a hackathon during a conference on nursing innovation and entrepreneurship. I joined a team of volunteers and built that event. We weren’t sure what to expect as there had never been a hackathon for nursing. We sold out two weeks in advance, and major hospitals and healthcare companies attended the event in Boston.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The only thing I can control is my response, my attitude, my perspective. I get to control what I make this mean.” It is all about mindset. The truth is that you’re going to be told no, or that you’re not good enough, or that you don’t have the skill sets or don’t meet the criteria constantly. That’s a lesson that I learned early on. It didn’t matter how often the phone was hung up on me up, I wanted to solve these problems for nurses, but some decision-makers just saw me as a nurse and said I should stay in my lane. There was so much downward pressure, and I was a young mother with three kids. I learned that it doesn’t matter what is said about you, it’s all about how you internalize what is said to you. If you have a brick wall coming at you, it’s either an opportunity to scale it and get over it or allow it to stop your ambitions.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Dr. Nancy Hanrahan, who was leading a top 50 nursing school, bet her reputation on me to make me the director of the first nursing program of its kind in the country. She took a chance based on what she saw in me and my ability to build and deliver. I didn’t have a PhD, I held a master’s degree, and in nursing and academia your degree level matters. Nancy took somebody who was a relatively no-name individual and bet on me. We created a nursing innovation program because we didn’t want nurses to just leave with clinical skills, but also with a basic understanding of business. We fundamentally believed that there are no truer entrepreneurs in the world than nurses, and that supporting bringing their ideas to life, would transform healthcare for the better.
Nancy is an incredible nursing leader and together we founded SONSIEL. It’s people like Nancy who hired me, and private donors who funded my position, that forever changed my future, and I will be forever grateful, and personally work to pay it forward every day to other nurses.
Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them of course, is how doctors treat their patients. Many doctors have started treating their patients remotely. Telehealth can of course be very different than working with a patient that is in front of you. This provides great opportunity because it allows more people access to medical professionals, but it can also create unique challenges. To begin, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main benefits of having a patient in front of you? On the flip side, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main challenges that arise when a patient is not in the same space as the doctor?
We became clinicians because we love patient interaction and alleviating suffering. We didn’t get into healthcare because we wanted to deal with technology or sit behind a desk all day. As clinicians we have a responsibility to help others and we live by a motto of, “do no harm.” We were taught to deliver care face-to-face via human interaction. The benefits of in-person care involve being able to touch the patient, evaluate their body language and responses to stimuli, listen to their heart, or asses their injury while observing all the subtleties that tell us so much when delivering care.
However, for a long time, technology in healthcare has been a pain point for clinicians. From EHRs to communication software, these technologies have often added complexities to our jobs, largely because their core purpose is mainly aimed at reimbursement or risk management, not at driving efficiencies for clinicians. Study after study highlights burnout and fatigue due to the technology demands placed on clinicians that take us away from our core competency — human interaction with patients to deliver care.
COVID turned everything we knew about healthcare on its head and forced us to look at technology unlike we ever had before. Even though COVID limited in-person consults and the benefits of physical evaluations, it in exchange gave us some of that one-on-one time back with patients. In many instances, EHR documentation was suspended, or significantly altered for clinicians, allowing them more time to engage directly with patients. Even via telehealth, it appears that there was more time to be able to do your job and get charting done — without the distractions of an office setting.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges? What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Best Care For Your Patients When They Are Not Physically In Front Of You ? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Establish a personal connection with your patient: Clinicians have an opportunity right when they come on the camera to smile, state their name, ask them their name. That first minute is great to break the ice, acknowledge the newness of it all and establish a personal connection. Sometimes virtual visits allow us to engage in a more personal way than in the office where there tends to be more hustle and bustle.
- Celebrate and encourage the power of technology: The nice thing about virtual visits is that everything can be done on the computer. We can optimize visits by sending check-in paperwork and assessments to patients before their virtual visit. The assessment answers and patient information can be right in front of you during the appointment and the insights you can draw from reviewing ahead of time and together can make that virtual visit much more valuable to the patient.
- Use patient engagement programs: There are great patient engagement programs available from apps to text-based programs. You can suggest patient engagement programs that should be used between visits to manage and track their health. Not only does that make the patient actively engaged in their care plan, but it also provides actionable data to review during your next appointment.
- Remember how virtual visits optimize care: Patients (and providers) value the convenience of virtual visits. All the communication that we can do remotely means the lives of patients and providers can be optimized in a way that is easier and better for all. From the convenience of sparing a mother from having to haul her sick child across town for her own appointment, to making it easier to schedule a check-in between classes or avoid peak traffic hour or giving a patient with limited transportation a more convenient option. All those little things can make someone’s day a little better, and a little good adds up.
- Remote visits help remove barriers to care: As providers we always want to help our patients access care- virtual visits are a great solution for greater access. Telehealth can help address discrepancies in access to care by removing barriers such as transportation or even time constraints for those who can’t easily take several hours off from work or step away from their home for prolonged periods of time. There is a lot of work to be done with telehealth, but it is one of the major first steps to democratizing access to care for all, and that is a good thing to embrace.
Can you share a few ways that Telehealth can create opportunities or benefits that traditional in-office visits cannot provide? Can you please share a story or give an example?
Telehealth became our front door to care during COVID and it was highly effective at keeping healthcare functioning. It allows us to have a conversation with our patients and assess them in a meaningful way and to triage and see if it’s necessary for them to make the trip for an in-person visit. We aren’t trying to cram patients into a 15-minute appointment in a doctor’s office with distractions like phones ringing and other patients.
Let’s zoom in a bit. Many tools have been developed to help facilitate Telehealth. In your personal experiences which tools have been most effective in helping to replicate the benefits of being together in the same space?
During COVID we have learned that there is technology that helps us do our job better and make things less cumbersome for the provider, which in turn helps patient care. There are a couple of things that we are doing at OptimizeRx specifically that help facilitate virtual care with programs that support providers needs behind the scenes and patients’ needs when away from the doctor’s office. This includes access to the right person at the right time through digital communications platforms. For example, when a clinician is making a decision about a new prescription, they now have access to someone who can help answer questions about prescription medications in real-time over the computer. They don’t have to wait for an in-person visit from a pharma rep. If a patient is not doing well on a specific medication, a new drug must be considered. The clinician is able to reach out to a life sciences rep right from their computer (within the workflow) and get quick answers to help the patient. That simple communication solution adds incredible value. This information makes for better informed telehealth visits and better supports patient care.
In addition, patient engagement programs now allow clinicians to collect data for a long period of time and translate that into actionable improvements or programs for patients. Prior to COVID and this rapid adoption of technology and programs, clinicians didn’t have this level of data to discuss with patients. Through patient engagement programs and patient reporting, we can do more with this data than a 15-minute conversation could ever do face-to-face.
If you could design the perfect Telehealth feature or system to help your patients, what would it be?
We now have the technology that enables us to support patients in self-reporting health information and to do that very effectively. We can make patient-physician encounters so much more effective. Patients recall the story that’s at the forefront in their mind, which is the most recent episode. Very rarely do we get a good snapshot, for example, of the last three months. The patients who get the best outcomes are the ones who come in and have a well-documented diary or have captured health data from devices. Devices for patients at home such as blood pressure monitors and oximeters and tools that can help patients self-record are helpful as they can upload actionable information for the clinician to see.
Are there things that you wish patients knew in order to make sure they are getting the best results even though they are not actually in the office?
Patients should know that they shouldn’t ignore pain or difficulty breathing. If patients recognized that post-surgery they are not getting better ten days out, or they suddenly get worse, they need to contact their provider. It’s okay to call and not “sleep it off.” Telehealth can help in these situations, and I believe would encourage more patients to interact with providers on potentially deadly situations, if it were more convenient (especially post-surgery) to do a telehealth visit than to schlep into an office. A quick telehealth visit, or urgent care call can absolutely save lives.
The technology is rapidly evolving and new tools like VR, AR, and Mixed Reality are being developed to help bring people together in a shared virtual space. Is there any technology coming down the pipeline that excites you?
We can do really great things with technology in healthcare. I am excited about the ways emerging technologies can be leveraged to design new patient engagement programs. However, I think healthcare has yet to dive deeper with simpler technology — like text-messaging for example. The use of text-messaging communications has become more ubiquitous in healthcare over the past few years, but there’s still a long way to go.
Our team has worked with clients to leverage the simplicity and power of text-messaging based patient engagement programs. The truth is a lot of people still don’t have access to computers or tablets, or even internet. The beauty of text-messaging is that it democratizes access to effective patient engagement programs and helps drive better outcomes. We need to look at the future of patient engagement programs not as a ‘nice-to –have’ but as a driver of better outcomes that can improve a patient’s life. I also believe we will see an alignment of payers and providers via patient engagement programs because we can actually measure data and outcomes through these programs.
Is there a part of this future vision that concerns you? Can you explain?
I think the one thing that always concerns us with technology is our reliance on technology. We never want to become so reliant on technology that we assume it’s doing its job and we stop doing ours. We always want to make sure that a patient can be seen for face-to-face interaction if that’s what is needed, and that technology is only an enhancement to what we do, not a replacement.
Ok wonderful. We are nearly done. Here is our last “meaty” question. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I want to inspire a million nurses or beyond to go out and create the solutions to the problems they see in healthcare. If there’s one thing that we can do to transform the future of healthcare, that is to empower nurses who are on the frontline of taking care of patients and create solutions to those problems they see repeatedly that cause harm to patients, delay treatment, or deny access to care. The nurse is the person closest to the patient I want to empower nurses to bring forward their solutions. When nurses innovate, become entrepreneurs, they bring forth solutions that save patients’ lives or make healthcare better. There are no truer innovators than nurses to transform the future of healthcare. If there’s one place I could invest that’s going to transform the future of healthcare, I would invest in nurses all day long.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.