I am a great fan of telemedicine. There are many kinks that need to be worked out in the deployment of large-scale telemedicine systems. However, this will be the most important response to the need to deliver quality healthcare on a much larger scale. One aspect of this shift in healthcare is the development of a new vocabulary to describe various aspects of patient-provider interactions on the web. A recent article addressed one of these jargon issues (see: At the 'webside'):
When Kaiser Permanente's emergency room wait times began rising three years ago, Dr. Dennis Truing and a colleague launched a telemedicine program to provide faster access to care for their patients (see: Innovations: Kaiser tests video visits to cut waits). At the time, there weren't many training programs for telemedicine or for developing good “webside” manner, which can greatly improve patients' adherence to treatment. Instead, Truing had to learn on the fly....Like its cousin “bedside manner,” webside manner is a key skill for clinicians involved in telemedicine, experts say. Physicians must proffer an empathetic and compassionate presence to calm fears and provide hope for patients who may be suffering from serious or even not-so-serious illness...[B]edside manner can have a statistically significant impact on patient health, affecting the incidence of obesity, asthma, diabetes, hypertension and osteoarthritis. It can also affect weight loss or blood sugar levels in patients. But clinicians are going to have to rethink how they deliver this important element of their craft as medicine moves deeper into the digital age....Approximately 71% of employers say they will offer telemedicine consults through their health plans by 2017. Investment is growing too; the telemedicine market was worth about $500 million in 2014, but that is expected to balloon to $13 billion in 2020....That's why experts and consultants are encouraging physicians to prepare for virtual visits with appropriate equipment and a well-developed “webside manner,” which includes all the same skills as bedside manner but has a number of its own requirements. Just like during a traditional office visit, clinicians must juggle paying attention to the patient with filling out electronic health records and other forms. It's as important to put patients at ease in a virtual environment as it is in an office.
One of the current major barriers to the establishment of telemedicine programs is the training of physicians and nurses to be comfortable with patient interactions at a distance. There's not a lot of accumulated experience about this topic currently. Farsighted hospital executives understand that one of the fastest ways to gain telemedicine experience is to launch a program and learn by doing. I have only quoted a portion of the article cited above so link to it for more information. It's worth the effort.
One fact is obvious to me, however, about telemedicine. Younger physicians and nurses will probably develop their webside skills faster and better than some of the older members of this group. The former are more accustomed to placing video calls using apps like FaceTime and social media. However, I think that it would also be unrealistic to assume that a physician or nurse who has not cultivated good "bedside manners" can subsequently develop good "webside manners." These are a usually a matter of core personality with the added burden of needing to reach out to a patient with only "screen" contact.