Overview

WHAT IS TELEMEDICINE?

Telemedicine is the practice of utilizing various forms of technology, such as video or audio calls, computers, etc., to deliver healthcare services (Darkins & Cary, 2000). Services can either be provided between a healthcare provider and a patient located remotely, or the technology can be used for healthcare providers and specialists to collaborate and interact with each other surrounding patient care (Darkins & Cary, 2000). Telemedicine can be used to schedule appointments, provide patient education, complete evaluations and assessments, and provide interventions to individuals seeking care without having to travel to these services. Telemedicine has been in practice for years now, but is rapidly growing and changing to fit healthcare needs.

WHAT IS TELEPRESENCE?

Telepresence is a virtual presence created by a healthcare provider that encompasses interpersonal, environmental, and technological factors. Think of it as a "virtual bedside manner", or the way that the healthcare providers present themselves to their patients (LeRouge et al., 2014). Per the literature, three over arching areas can impact telepresence: 1) interpersonal skills, 2) preparation and environment, and 3) technology-related factors. Further information of these skills are as follows:

  • Interpersonal skills
    • This includes the clinician having a good attitude, and personality traits such as patience, compassion and flexibility. Other factors to consider is establishing a strong rapport with the patient, and ensuring a clear line of communication is established to limit any confusion. As with in-person sessions, providers should prioritize patient-centered care.
  • Preparation and Environment
    • Providers should confirm that the client understands the technology before sessions begins, as to not spend session time on it; research has suggested having a contact person for technology questions/difficulties can minimize confusion (LeRougue et al., 2014). Providers should take steps to prepare for meetings by pre-emptively establishing clear directives and by building in time to transition from meeting-to-meeting. The background environment needs to be private and professional. Clinicians should wear headphones to remain confidential, and have a non-distracting background so focus can stay on the session.
  • Technology-related factors
    • Assuring that both the clinician and client are comfortable with the technology should be one of the first steps. Another step is making sure that the technology being used is adequate (i.e. clear video and audio, strong internet connection, etc.). HIPAA must continue to be followed through the technology, meaning that the sessions are private and the software being used protects the client's information.

 

IMPACTS OF EFFECTIVE TELEPRESENCE IN HEALTHCARE FIELD:

Having an effective telepresence can positively impact patient experiences in various ways. For example, effective telepresence can result in:

  • More clear communication, and therefore better understanding, about patient results, treatments, and goals

  • Ensuring that meetings/appointments are productive, and all needs on the agenda are addressed
  • More motivating, interesting, and salient interactions with patients surrounding their care and intervention
  • An overall more positive relationship with the patient

 

WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?

The current problem surrounding effective telepresence in the healthcare field is this: What steps do we take to achieve this? While there are some classes and resources on how to improve aspects of telepresence, there currently isn't much research that establishes a clear directive on how to achieve this. The following sections will establish how telepresence can impact various facets of the healthcare field, but also aims to answer this question. In short our answer, based on the review of the literature, is that an effective telepresence must consist of strengths across three components: 1) interpersonal skills of providers, 2) preparation and environment, and 3) technology-related factors. By strengthening, honing, and integrating these skills into telemedicine sessions, both the patient and provider are more likely to experience an effective telepresence and therefore reap the rewards. It is crucial that providers consider all three components when aiming to improve their telepresence.