I need to know why they are here. Who or what brought them in. It makes a difference if I see someone who is aware of his health issues and is actively seeking help, or if someone was referred by a physician or clinic for a specific reason. In the case of the latter I found the time to achieve their goals takes a bit longer, because these patients may not have the motivation to change — yet.
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 interviewingSascha Blank.
Sascha is a seasoned executive and Healthcare professional who started working in the Health & Fitness Industry more than a decade ago. As he transitioned from a nutrition and fitness focus to healthcare, he graduated from Duke Universities’ Center for Integrative Medicine in North Carolina. Sascha is also a National Board certified Health and Wellness Coach, bridging the gap between the idea of change and the reality of change. He is now helping individuals nationwide and across international borders with lifestyle, habit and behavior changes to prevent, manage, or reverse chronic health conditions.
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?
My passion was always health and fitness and how you can live your best life, without being held back by pills and pain. When people around me noticed how I turned my life around, focused on healthy eating, and exercised regularly, they were curious how I did it. And that was when I noticed my ability to inspire others, share my knowledge and experience, and really have an impact on their lives. So I followed that path of helping others to this day, where I am able to do that across the globe with people from all walks of life.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
If I have to pick one, I would go with this: I had a new patient come into my office for the first consultation. After she told me her story and health history she challenged me to come with her and change her behaviors that cause her diseases for her. Like when you take your dog for a walk, and he always tries to misbehave so you have to tell him to let go — over and over again? She wanted to be the dog in that scenario.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Live without regrets. When we make choices, there are a few things we consider before we make a decision. Sometimes we later think that it would have been better to make a different choice, knowing what we know now. But that’s just speculation. We don’t know if it’s true. When I wasn’t sure about what to do, I would consider which decision would make me happy in the moment. And If I was happy in the moment, I don’t think about having regrets later.
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?
My spouse. Clearly the most important person in my life. Despite the knowledge that we have as health care workers, sometimes it’s hard to deal with people, for example when they are not appreciative of the help you are offering. Having such a supportive partner, who pushed me through at times and reminded me of why I’m doing what I’m doing was really important to get me where I am today.
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?
Absolutely. Having a patient in front of you has a number of benefits. First, they have to make an effort to show up to your office, which shows a certain level of motivation that you can build on. Then there is the body language that can tell you so much more than what a patient is saying. Are they telling you the whole story? Did you notice a certain body reaction that indicates the patient is uncomfortable with something you just said? But there is also the appearance of that person, which can tell you more about where they come from or what they’re able to do, allowing you to be more helpful. For example, if they walk in with a limp, you won’t recommend anything that includes running.
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?
Let’s see, is the patient on the phone? Or does he show up to a video appointment? Not seeing the patient makes it difficult to identify who it is, and if they’re in a private setting in case you need to discuss personal information. If you meet online via a video conferencing tool, it allows me a little more insight into the patients’ situation, seeing their facial expressions, their mood, their environment. Many of these things can help identify how I can best serve them and their needs. Of course there is also the challenge to establish a secure and reliable connection. Patients who are on the phone and are hard to understand because they live in an area with low cell phone coverage should be able to receive the same care as if they were in the office.
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.)
- I need to know why they are here. Who or what brought them in. It makes a difference if I see someone who is aware of his health issues and is actively seeking help, or if someone was referred by a physician or clinic for a specific reason. In the case of the latter I found the time to achieve their goals takes a bit longer, because these patients may not have the motivation to change — yet.
- What are your challenges as a patient? The more information someone is sharing with me, about their condition, their personal situation, etc., I can paint a picture of the patient more holistically, which can speed up the treatment time and increases the efficacy of each session. In the office most people tend to do some small talk to start. Online it often goes straight to the point, skipping the part that allows me to get some insights which may help me map out their journey.
- How comfortable is the patient with Telehealth/Tech. Meeting over a screen may be the new normal for many working remotely. However, not everyone is used to this technology or way of communication. I want to know where my patients are on this. If the patient is not used to it, I can come off as cold or distant during a visit. While I show each patient the same level of empathy and compassion, someone who is not used to video conferencing, may perceive the care given differently. If I know this, I am able to act accordingly.
- Come prepared with data that’s important for our visit. A client called in to our session with the intent to show me the latest health data from his smartwatch. While I can look at it in the office, I cannot go through it over the phone. So sharing that information with me ahead of time is important.
- Where is the patient located and are they able and comfortable to visit the office. I am a big fan of Telehealth, however not every situation is suitable for that. Knowing whether or not they can come in, allows me to assess next steps in case this becomes necessary.
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?
We see more and more benefits for Telehealth. As I mentioned earlier, the issues with underserved communities. There are so many people living in communities without health care providers nearby. They have to travel miles and hours to access care. If it’s not for an emergency, unfortunately the hurdles are too big for many to use our services that could help, manage, or prevent certain conditions BEFORE they get severe.
Another benefit I see is the opportunity to maintain a level of anonymity while you establish rapport and build trust. I discuss very private and personal issues. Some people don’t feel comfortable going into an office and ‘exposing’ themselves at the beginning. With Telehealth on the other hand, there are less barriers to get people in, allowing us to help and serve in the best way possible.
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?
My favorite feature of Telehealth platforms is the video chat tool. I love seeing the smile on their faces.
If you could design the perfect Telehealth feature or system to help your patients, what would it be?
It would be a remote monitoring tool, that shares live data of the patient’s vitals, combined with a mood sensor, and — of course — video! I believe the more senses we can incorporate into a virtual visit, the better the experience will be.
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?
I have experienced patients who see the Telehealth device as some kind of barrier between us. That leaves them more distanced in the conversation, only responding to direct questions, without elaborating on their story. We are not the automated voice system you hear when calling your telecom provider. We are real people, talk to us! Also, we are accessible. Sometimes even more accessible than with the regular office visit. Many of us are connected with a HIPAA compliant platform or App, where patients can connect with us. Patients should feel comfortable using it. If we offer that, take advantage of it and ask away if you find yourself in a sticky situation. If you’re not sure what the treatment plan says, before you start interpreting that in any way, reach out through the Telehealth options. Oftentimes you get an answer directly from the healthcare professional themselves, in a timely manner. That’s a real benefit compared to the regular office.
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?
Even though I haven’t had the opportunity to try it myself, VR visits sound promising. XR allows the provider to be even more ‘in-the-room’ via Telehealth and can help the patient feel more immersed in the visit than our regular Telehealth visits. It further allows us to incorporate more treatment options that go deeper than just a conversation.
Is there a part of this future vision that concerns you? Can you explain?
Tech is all great and fun if it works properly and if you have access to it. Inequality is still a huge issue. According to Oxfam, almost half of humanity is living on less than 5.50 dollars a day. Being virtually connected and having access to Telehealth devices for this large part of our population is challenging.
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. 🙂
If I could inspire a movement it would be about motivation. We all are motivated by something. Whether we’re consciously aware of it or not. The more we live true to our values and get clear on our personal ‘why’, it is so much easier to achieve certain goals. When it comes to your health, and you don’t have a reason to be healthy (and we all do have unique reasons for why we want to stay healthy), we won’t change for the better. But we need to find that reason to get the motivation fired up.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Until my YouTube channel goes live, you can find more information on my website www.sascha-blank.com, where I share more resources, articles and findings regularly.
Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.