Whether providing telehealth online or seeing patients in person, clinicians need to make strong patient relationships a priority. Long believed to be true, a 2014 report offered clear evidence that trusting relationships between clinicians and patients lead to better treatment outcomes. In fact, the report stated that efforts to improve the patient-clinician relationship “can produce health effects just as beneficial as taking a daily aspirin to prevent a heart attack.”
For mental health providers, connecting with patients is essential to help them open up about sensitive issues and details that are very valuable in making accurate diagnoses and planning effective treatments. Telepsychiatry has been proven to be as effective as in-person treatment, thanks in part to the fact that telepsychiatry does not negatively impact the rapport between clinician and patient. In some cases, patients actually prefer meeting on-screen instead of in person, since it helps them avoid the stigma or inconvenience of traveling to a psychiatrist’s office. In every telehealth online program, building that rapport from the start with patients should be top of mind.
When providing telehealth online, healthcare facilities should consider the following three areas to help mental health clinicians build rapport with patients.
1. Selecting the right clinician
To establish patient trust, start by choosing a clinician who’s a good fit for your patient population. Consider your healthcare setting; patient demographics; and any common disorders your patients face, such as depression or addiction. The ideal clinician may come from a similar background as your patient population, allowing them to relate to patients effortlessly and understand the daily stressors they face.
For Advantage Health Centers, a Detroit-based federally qualified healthcare center, finding the right telepsychiatrist has made all the difference in creating strong patient relationships. “We had one patient who said, ‘I’m not going to see anyone on a computer,’” behavioral health director Lakreese Johnson says. “He agreed to try it once, and when I walked in an hour later, he was so engaged he didn’t want to leave.” The patient response to the telepsychiatrist has been so positive that Advantage added an hour of weekly care to meet ongoing demand.
2. Making the patient comfortable
In our tech-heavy world, we’ve become accustomed to immediacy, so technical difficulties can cause a patient anxiety or diminish the trust they have for the clinician. To set the stage for a positive telepsych session, make sure your technology is up to speed – literally, when talking about internet speed. Outfitting the room for the session with a comfortable chair or couch, soft lighting, and adequate privacy can also help put patients at ease.
With the appropriate setting in place, it’s then up to the telepsychiatrist to welcome the patient, addressing any questions they might have about how telepsychiatry works. The clinician should introduce themselves and make it clear that they are a qualified and licensed physician capable of providing quality care. They should walk their patient through the treatment process by discussing the structure of the session and how prescriptions will be delivered electronically, as well as how they communicate with the healthcare facility or the patient’s primary care physician. Even if the patient has no prior experience with psychiatric treatment, the telepsychiatrist should make it clear to the patient that the treatment they are about to receive is just as effective as if they were in the same room together.
3. Engaging with patients after the session
To gauge how effectively your telepsychiatry clinician is engaging with patients, go straight to the source. Asking patients for feedback shows that their clinician and facility are truly invested in their care, while enabling continuous improvement for the clinician and your entire telehealth online program. Look for tech that makes providing and compiling patient feedback simple. A platform like RegroupConnect, which offers customizable patient surveys, reporting tools and analytics, can help streamline the entire process for better results all around.
In a practice that requires openness and honesty to achieve the best outcome, it is paramount that your telepsychiatrist builds rapport with each patient. That process begins even before the first session is scheduled, and continues after each session concludes. No matter what mental health issues your patients face, a strong rapport between patient and telepsychiatrist is key for achieving the best possible outcomes.