There is a large focus on pivoting towards online consulting right now, but many are looking at this as a short term solution rather than seeing the long term potential it offers. For health professionals, online consultations offer the freedom of being able to work a portion of our week from home or away. For clinic owners, it means we are no longer restricted by who or what is near our clinic or the number of rooms our clinic has. For patients, it allows access to receiving health care from the best health professionals, regardless of location around the world. It is truly an exciting time for health care!

There is a great opportunity here if we set up our online consultations with the same dedication and professionalism as we would for any new service within our clinics. It is not as simple as finding a video conferencing service and booking your patients in, there is so much more than that.

For me, the long term success of online consultations as a service relies on 3 things:

  1. Training our team on what, why and how we run online consultations
  2. Educating our patients on the benefits and effectiveness of online health care
  3. Creating an amazing experience that they will remember and rave about

(1/3) Training Our Teams

At times, we can get so caught up in the logistics of rolling out a new service that we forget to dedicate the same attention to mentoring the team that will help deliver it. Our aim is to give our team clarity and confidence in how to lead a patient through an online consultation and towards the same positive outcome they would receive in-clinic.

The uncertainty with online consultations is whether we can indeed achieve these same positive outcomes. In theory, we are still able to provide guidance, education, management and a plan for patients, but it doesn’t feel this simple for most health professionals. The obvious solution would be to role play online consultations, but this is only the beginning!

One way to provide our team with more clarity is to address the potential barriers up front and discuss the solutions or workarounds together. We can do this by breaking down the subjective, objective assessment and management of common conditions and list what we would normally do in the clinic. Proceed then to tick the items which remain the same, and brainstorm alternatives for those which cannot be performed over online consults.

trainingAs a physio, an example of this may be any treatments which require manual therapy. We can either create a list of equipment and items from home that could replicate soft tissue work (like a foam roller or spikey ball) or document exercises which may provide the same relief with an active approach. From an assessment point of view, a lot of our “special tests” have now been proven to not be so special, so we need to rely on great questioning and clinical reasoning within our subjectives to help guide our judgement.

Once we have worked through these scenarios and troubleshooted potential barriers, we can move on to role playing. Initially, team members may practice with each other, role playing different conditions and trialling different exercises, movements or instructions. Focusing specifically on each aspect of this will help our team to familiarise themselves with the new online format and the level of communication needed.

After this, I suggest reaching out to family or friends and allowing our team to now practice on someone who isn’t a health professional themselves. The problem with simply practicing with each other is that our communication skills don’t have to be perfect. We are health professionals after all, we know what you mean and know what movements you are asking of us. Our family and friends do not! This is where we get the true test of how well we can communicate and lead a patient through a consult over video.

It is valuable to seek feedback from everyone who participates in these practice consults, patient and practitioner, so be sure to follow up with a phone call or google form.

(2/3) Educating Our Patients

Although online consultations is not a new concept for health professionals, it is fairly unheard of in the general public. A service, predominantly used for providing access to health care in remote and rural areas, is now something we are trying to educate our regular patients in. These same patients are used to visiting our clinics, experiencing our welcome rooms, getting treated on our plinths and working up a sweat in our exercise classes or gym spaces.

We must now draw their attention to the aspects of their journey with us which remain the same, whether in person or online. As mentioned earlier, we can still learn about their story through a thorough subjective assessment, assess their concern and develop a plan to help them manage their pain. If that’s not enough, some of the other benefits of online consultations you may highlight are receiving health care from the comfort of their own home, avoiding traffic and travelling time (this is especially beneficial for those attending clinics within Metro CBD’s), and having access to the very best health professionals no matter where they may consult from. If nothing else in today’s world, we crave convenience, and that is something online consultations does have over in-clinic appointments.

It is a lot easier to discuss these benefits in person with a client, where you can add context and relevance to how you will help them and their condition. However, for potential new clients, we need to have these benefits, along with any FAQs, clearly outlined on our website. An example of this, is my clinic’s online physio consultation page.

(3/3) Creating Amazing Experiences

Everything is ready to go for our first online consult together,
… and your patient doesn’t know how to log in and access their video call
… the lighting is poor, video is lagging and audio is cutting in and out
… your cat runs across your desk in the middle of your consult

These scenarios may seem comical, however they are all real situations you may find yourself in without the appropriate preparation. Furthermore, if I am a patient in pain, still not entirely trusting the effectiveness of an online consult, any one of these have just ruined the entire experience for me. We can be so purposeful in creating an exceptional client experience for online consultations, that they too can be something our patients rave about.

client experience in telehealthIn regards to the online consult itself, ensure you are set up in a room that allows the space to stand up, move about or lie down in order to show our patients the assessments and exercises we want them to carry out. We also want to maintain a professional environment, so wearing uniform and sitting in front of a desk is paramount. Online consults and working from home sounds laid back, but again, patients will struggle to trust the value of the service if you’re laying in bed or casually sitting on the couch! Finally, the backdrop is important too – plain white walls, nice prints and plants will help to promote an all-round professional experience.

Even before our first online consultation, we have the opportunity to address any concerns and give clarity on what to expect. I would really encourage the use of a welcome video for online consultations, which is emailed a day or two prior in order to explain the process of accessing their video call, giving direction in what equipment they may need, what they should wear and any other relevant information you see fit. This along with reiterating the benefits and effectiveness of online consultations will leave patients feeling prepared and confident in you and your service. In between appointments, we can also go over and above in offering support as we would in-clinic.

What Other Opportunities Can Online Consultations Offer?

Everyone has a favourite type of patient they help (don’t lie, you do!). It may be those who play a certain sport or present with a specific condition. Now imagine being able to market to that population regardless of where you or they live. You are no longer restricted by who is in your local area or who are the closest referrers. That is what we can achieve through online consultations.

You may love to work within a niche that doesn’t exist in your area or is at least hard to come by. Love working with GridIron players? Well you may be limited here in Australia, but now you can market nation wide or overseas. Love hitting the slopes for snowboarding or skiing once or twice a year? Now you can work with those who participate more often and you get to talk about it all year round.

We are about to enter a new realm of healthcare, where we can truly go after any area we wish to work with. If you are passionate and highly skilled in a certain area or activity, online consultations opens a world of opportunities!

Let’s make sure we are prepared and implementing this service for the long term!

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