For some time now, the human race’s means to communicate has drastically outpaced its ability to communicate. This is as true for telehealth practitioners as with anyone else. Videoconferencing may allow a physician or healthcare provider to communicate with a patient remotely but how prepared or qualified is either individual to ensure a successful encounter? The technology may allow participants to see and hear one another but there is so much more to the experience.
What is telepresence?
Telepresence is a term that refers to the ability to make two people in two different locations feel as if they are actually in one another’s presence. Typically, this requires rather complex video technologies. Experienced telehealth providers have come to realize that it is a challenge to recreate the traditional doctor’s visit in this way. As a result, it has been determined that both sides of the exchange are best represented by a qualified professional.
What is the role of the telepresenter?
A telepresenter is a facilitator. Though not strictly required, a presenter comes in handy when it comes to ensuring that the exchange of information between provider and patient flows freely. Typically, a presenter is located at the patient’s remote site, assisting the patient as well as acting as a proxy for the provider.
So far, this role has been filled by just about anyone who is willing and able to assist with these consultations, from licensed professionals to family members or spouses. However, the role of telepresenter is evolving just as rapidly as the practice of telemedicine itself. The goal is efficient communication. Some examples of what may be required of presenters going forward, include:
A presenter will be expected to adhere to the policies and procedures of the provider. He or she may be responsible for paperwork, such as consent forms. Scheduling could also be the duty of a presenter. Contacting and following up with patients are examples of preparatory tasks asked of the presenter, along with reviewing pre-consultation forms and tests. Like any healthcare professional, strict observation of HIPAA regulations should be expected.
The most immediate and apparent needs of telemedicine will most likely always be technical in nature. On both ends, someone knowledgeable in the operation of the necessary technology will have to be present. It would only be logical for that person to be the presenter, on the patient’s side. Not only would the presenter be responsible for setting up equipment but for maintaining it as well. A presenter may act as the provider’s hands but not without optimal audio and visual functionality.
A telepresenter is a patient advocate, first and foremost. A telehealth provider will rely on the presenter for a great deal of clinical feedback. Anyone else on the patient’s end, such as family members, will have to be kept in the loop. If connectivity is lost, the presenter should still be useful to the patient and have a contingency plan in place. All accommodations based on culture, language or disability should be made in advance.
What is the role of the telehealth provider?
Knowledge-wise, the telehealth provider can be a one-person show. However, knowledge is not the same as communication. The same efficiency ensured by the presenter on the other end is also the responsibility of the provider. The same old bedside manner may not translate via videoconferencing. A telehealth should also follow guidelines when conducting a videoconference:
- Assure patient privacy
- Maintain good eye contact
- Exhibit positive body language
- Give the patient the opportunity to respond and ask questions of their own
- Minimize distractions
Doesn’t it always come down to customer service? Telepresence equates to a consumer experience. A doctor certainly gives serious thought to the appearance of his office’s waiting room and consulting rooms. Though they may be two rooms miles away from one another, those spaces are the “doctor’s office” when practicing telemedicine. It is deceptively easy for communication to break down without someone to act as its custodian. That is why telehealth providers must study the topic of telepresence and consider employing a telepresenter.