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Live online physician-patient conversations: The patient is around. Now it's the doctor's turn.

In early 2020, the Dutch healthcare system was significantly disrupted by the outbreak of COVID-19. To prevent the risk of infection, the number of on-site appointments was immediately reduced to the bare minimum. To still allow for some doctor-patient contact, many GPs and hospitals introduced online doctor-patient conversations.

Now, 1.5 years later, it is time to take stock. Will video calling disappear from the picture when the pressure on healthcare decreases? We think and hope not! For both the patient, the hospital and the doctor, online doctor-patient conversations offer many advantages. Hester Hooijen tells you what they are in this blog.

The patient

Online image calling, in particular, really offers many benefits to the patient;

  1. The patient does not have to travel to the hospital for every consultation or follow-up. This saves travel time, money but also a lot of inconvenience. If you are really sick or have trouble walking, even getting ready to go to the hospital can be a hassle. It is also very annoying to have to arrange transportation if you are unable to drive yourself.
  2. Patients no longer have to wait in an uncomfortable waiting room with other patients, nor do they have to fear unexpected encounters with acquaintances.
  3. If the patient does not understand something, it is relatively easier for them to call in a roommate or family member.
  4. The patient can resume other activities immediately before and after the consultation.
  5. Possibly, replacing a consultation online can even contribute to the patient's mental well-being. What we sometimes forget: a patient is not just a patient but a person. Spending less time in the hospital and being preoccupied with "being sick" gives the patient more time to focus mentally and physically on other aspects of life.

Not only patients have noticed these benefits. Zorgverzekeraars Nederland and Patiëntenfederatie Nederland are now even arguing for a right to digital help. In many cases, a patient should be able to choose to be helped online instead of going to the hospital.

The hospital

Hospitals themselves are now also realizing that the continued use of live online tools for doctor-patient consultations yields many benefits. Especially now that the pressure on healthcare will further increase in the coming years due to aging, serious consideration is being given to whether live online consultations are here to stay.

The benefits to hospitals?

  • Fewer consulting rooms/waiting rooms/parking spaces/ are needed
  • Calls can be scheduled more efficiently one after the other
  • There is less physical interaction between staff and patients, and patients among themselves, which significantly reduces the likelihood of getting sick in the hospital.
  • Increasing patient demand for online alternatives can be met
  • Hospital shows it is moving with the times

The doctor

For the physician, the use of live online image calling may be the most difficult step. It is often easier for a physician to meet a patient in their own consulting room than to visit the patient at home via a video link. Informing, questioning or even examining patients online seems to be a difficult task for many physicians. Although every physician will put the well-being of the patient first, it is logical that this form of contact with a patient arouses resistance among physicians.

Nevertheless - because of Covid -19 - many hospitals have taken the first steps in that direction and it seems that doctors too have no other option than to make this new form of patient contact their own. We do advocate doing this with care and policy, and especially supporting the physician in that process as much as possible.

We previously wrote a blog about "Image calling with patients: how do you do it?" In it, we share some key tips to get physicians skipping to actively use live online consultation. In addition to having the right skills, a good setup of technical tools and support is crucial. This means:

  • A good live online environment with (preferably) capabilities to share content, annotate and set up a virtual waiting area
  • A quiet work area with good lighting and quiet background so the doctor is comfortable.
  • A good laptop or computer with a large screen and a webcam at eye level.
  • Good sound, if desired a good headset to exclude noise or possibly with bluetooth so the doctor can move around freely
  • An accessible technical help desk that is familiar with the software and to which the physician can turn in case of technical problems or questions

That online consultations will survive Covid-19 is certain. But how soon hospitals can actually start using online art-patient consultations successfully on a structural basis depends largely on how physicians are supported in that process. And there is still quite a bit of work to be done there!

Source: AD - Patient should have right to digital care.