You might think your bedside manner is excellent, but how’s your webside manner?
Webside manner is important
Our patients are communicating digitally, and increasingly, they’re communicating with their healthcare providers online as well. Digital communication has become commonplace—life is replete with emails, video calls, and social media. In his article, How Does Your Doctor’s Webside Manner Compare To Their Bedside Manner?, Dr. Glatter discusses the pressing need to consider the etiquette required to navigate the challenges of digital patient encounters. During these digital encounters, webside manner—the electronic correlate to bedside manner—is especially important.
What would Osler do?
During medical training, students and residents are taught bedside manner and communication skills primarily for face-to-face patient interaction. However, little time is devoted to discussing the etiquette of online interactions. The AMA has called for an increased focus on proper training in telemedicine for medical students, and it continues to be an emerging area of growth and research.
What would William Osler, the paragon of bedside manner and teaching have to say about webside manner? While we can’t know for sure, we can and should consider the best way to deliver patient-centered, compassionate care digitally.
Tips for video-based telehealth
While attentive listening, encouraging body language, and sympathetic physical gestures are all hallmarks of good bedside manner, patient encounters conducted through video calls limit the expression of similar non-verbal cues and body language. While there’s no substitute for excellent in-person bedside manner, when practicing webside manner, providers can minimize the impact of the technological barriers through these tips:
1.) Start the encounter with welcoming language just as you would after knocking and entering the patient room.
2.) Look into their camera (not the screen) in a way that gives the patient the impression you can see them.
3.) Communicate from an appropriate, professional-looking location that’s free of distractions.
4.) Dress professionally no matter where you are.
5.) Listen attentively and communicate this through affirming gestures and language.
Tips for text-based communication
The previous tips are can help providers in roles that use video telemedicine regularly. But what about the rest of us? Many providers won’t be video conferencing with their patients, but most will be exchanging emails or messages through the electronic health record.
In these interactions, we can’t sit down to indicate our intentioned presence, nor can we lay on hands to bridge the digital divide. We can’t even make empathetic facial expressions. Instead, we have to very deliberately convey patient-centeredness through our typed words.
1.) Use a pleasant greeting like you would a letter or more formal email.
2.) Legitimate your patients’ concerns by repeating it, ensuring the patient knows you understand them.
3.) Express empathy for their situation by naming their frustration, pain, or discomfort, depending on the situation.
4.) Deliver a specific plan that is clear about what you’ll do next and what you recommend the patient do next.
5.) Close with an appropriate, friendly salutation,and your digital signature.
Though expectations of formality in digital communication will be as varied as are the patients we see, one must maintain a professional, appropriate webside manner.
Use a deliberate approach
Our patients need to know that we care and have considered their questions thoughtfully. This is much more challenging to accomplish in the digital domain. Thus, a deliberate approach that considers webside etiquette is a must. Providers who are prepared to meet their patients’ expectations for excellent webside manner will be better empowered deliver superior, patient-centered communication.