Enhance Telecommunication With Patients

Posted May 14, 2020: Article in Progress. We’re releasing this article ahead of our June 2020 issue to quickly provide information to our readers. The information contained in this version is based on the best evidence available to us as of the date of posting. The final version may include revised recommendations.

COVID-19 will put more focus on optimizing communication with patients when you're not physically face-to-face.

The pandemic will accelerate "telepharmacy"...providing care remotely via phone, video, or other technology.

But it also highlights challenges...such as muffled speaking due to wearing masks, or not being able to pick up on body language.

Use these tips to enhance your interactions and limit errors.

Lean on your techs and students. For example, they can start a call and verify info, remind patients to collect all meds for a comprehensive med review (CMR), and pull up documentation forms.

Limit distractions and background noise. Explain expectations and goals up front...and consider using a checklist to remember key steps.

Treat these discussions like an in-person visit...and show empathy with good "webside" manner. For example, look into the camera if on video...and let patients "hear" you smile on the phone.

Continue to ask open-ended questions...then probe for details.

Use specific words to replace visual cues. For example, say, "Tell me each step you take to use the purple inhaler."

Speak slowly, clearly, and loudly if needed...especially if you're wearing a mask. Use plain language and avoid medical jargon.

Give verbal "nods," such as "I see"...and explain what you're doing if you need to review patient data or take notes...so patients don't interpret silence as disinterest.

Let patients know it's okay for them to take time to digest things. Also allow time for questions.

Practice active listening...connection issues may cause you to talk over the patient. Stay alert for changes in tone of voice or unexpected pauses...these could be signs of confusion.

Use the "chunk and check" method. Break down info into short "chunks"...to avoid overload. Then have patients teach back what they've learned and summarize takeaways...to "check" understanding.

Close the discussion by outlining next steps...such as when you'll follow up, contact a prescriber, or mail a med list.

See our resource, Telepharmacy: Tips for Connecting With Patients, for step-by-step reminders to optimize communication.