As people isolate at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, more clinicians are using telehealth tools to communicate with people living with stroke and their care partners.
The good news is that a recent publication by Heart & Stroke Foundation Canadian Partnership for Stroke Recovery researchers found that tele-rehabilitation can be as effective as face-to-face therapy if used properly and under the right circumstances.
Below, we provide some practical tips (courtesy of Australian telehealth researchers) to communicating effectively through online tools, such as Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, phone or your provincial telehealth network.
Making the connection: A guide for clinicians
Before your first video conference, you should:
- Test the audio and video on the platform you will be using.
- Practice videoconferencing with a friend or colleague before connecting with a patient – and keep practicing until you feel comfortable. The practice should resemble as closely as possible an actual consultation so you can learn how to get your message across and communicate effectively.
- Consider if you need the patient to be accompanied by a family member or care partner.
- Consider what kind of information can be gathered before the consultation begins.
- There is a steep learning curve with video conferencing so start with smaller sessions and build up.
- Acknowledge that you are both just learning and will need time to figure things out.
- Not all patients or types of consultations are amendable to telehealth. As a result, you should try to pre-determine what kinds of appointments are appropriate for phone or video consultations. As you become more familiar and comfortable with telehealth, you can expand to provide more types of services.
- Establish a process for patients to do a test connection before their appointment.
Preparing for a video session:
- Test your audio and video to ensure it is working. If you are on a headset, make sure it is working, too.
- Adjust your webcam so your head and shoulders are in view.
- Increase your privacy and reduce unwanted noise by closing windows and doors. Put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door.
- Have your patient’s phone number at hand.
- Speak slightly slower than you would in normal conversation.
- Take care not talk over the top of other participants. Pause after speaking and be conscious of taking turns.
- Avoid excessive movement, which can interfere with consistent audio volume.
- Inform your patient if you need to look away from the screen (e.g. to look up information).
When you begin:
- Introduce yourself.
- Ask if your patient can hear and see you.
- Have the patient confirm their name.
- Inform your patient that if there is anyone in the room, they must move into camera view or leave the room.
- Inform your patient you will phone them if there are any technical difficulties during the consultation. Confirm the phone number you have is correct.
- Prepare your patient before you begin the consultation to ensure a good interaction will ensue. If necessary, ask them to adjust their camera, re-position themselves or the person accompanying them, turn on the light, or close curtains behind them.
- Once you are satisfied that you can communicate effectively, begin the consultation.
Thanks to the Centre for Online Health at the University of Queensland in Australia for these helpful tips!