The novel coronavirus has spread rapidly across different geographies bringing about economic chaos and sudden changes in the clinical care systems. It has also disturbed the proceeding of educational institutions and has created challenges of self-isolation and social distancing that are unprecedented in our collective memories.
‘Masking’ and ‘Distancing’
Within a few weeks of COVID-19 transmission, use of masks, physical distancing, telehealth, intensive pulmonary care and ventilator management became more routine than ever. Social distancing in public places raised concerns about whether doctors should limit patient interactions to remote consultations. Clinic-based medicine practice was severely affected due to new norms that demand increased physical distancing between doctors and patients due to the fear of infection.
It would not be wrong to say that COVID-19 reasonably changed the way doctors practised clinic-based health check-ups and medicine. The rapidity and breadth of creative innovations developed in response to the crisis in the medical sector were never thought of before. Doctors and health systems had to understand and adapt to different care modalities like telemedicine that involves treating various medical conditions without seeing the patient in person. However, telemedicine is not a new phenomenon but has grown at an astonishing speed during the times of COVID-19.
The World Health Organization (WHO) broadly defines telemedicine as the delivery of healthcare services by all healthcare professionals using technology in exchange for valid information for the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease and injuries. For some time now, telemedicine has been used to connect remote rural areas to providers of medical care services. The use of telehealth for remote care assistance and education has increased substantially. Telemedicine can prove to be beneficial in conducting various services with high patient satisfaction, including new and return patients as well as postoperative and follow‐up visits in almost every practice.
Digitalisation for better doctor-patient interaction
Healthcare providers can use various telehealth modalities such as live audio, video call or instant messaging to address a patient’s concerns and diagnose their condition. A more exciting strategy includes telemedicine applications that provide medical access for patients from their phones or tablets. However, many health care providers who are excited to provide telemedicine services are not conversant with aspects of digitalisation like the internet, smartphones, computers, video-conferencing tools, etc.
The unfamiliarity of the technology remains to be the main barrier in the complete adoption of telemedicine technology. Historical data emphasises that the key drivers of positive patient experience and loyalty include a confident doctor, overall coordination, the doctor’s responsiveness to patient’s worries, careful listening of the patient’s problems and basic courtesy. For the successful adaptation of digitalisation, doctors need to improve their skills covering four unique areas — communication, care coordination, responsiveness and team efforts.
- Communication: Apart from clinical expertise, a doctor’s active listening and empathetic communication with patients builds trust and helps enhance the quality of care. This becomes a challenge during physical visits due to the barrier of PPE kits. In such cases, a warm approach and attentiveness can reduce patients’ anxiety.
- Care coordination: Clinic visits are essential in case patients experience high fever or breathing difficulty. Such situations pose exceptional safety challenges and a requirement of a separate zone in the clinic dedicated to such patients. Clear and simple messages should be given through direct phone calls, emails, posters and markings on the floor for social distancing. Such measures might assure that the patients return whenever they need extra care.
- Responsiveness: Prompt response to a patient’s call, message, email or application-based communication is essential to eradicate patient anxiety. It will also help in building trust and strengthening the doctor-patient relationship.
- Team efforts: Although we have reached a turning point with the launch of vaccines, COVID-19 has taken an emotional toll on doctors and front-line support staff. A caring team delivers an excellent patient experience. Compassion and support of the co-workers are effective in handling COVID-19 challenges. Additionally, pharma companies can act as a catalyst to facilitate doctor-patient interaction by improved content management, digital marketing support and newer sales structures.
Telehealth and telemedicine cannot solve all the challenges that the pandemic poses. However, they can definitely help doctors check on patients easily. It can also offer high-quality care at an affordable cost in the new era of digital health management.