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The Real Reason For Virtual Health Care Provider Burn-Out And Disconnection In Telehealth Today

Updated: Jan 7

By Birgitta Bella MHR, PA-C

Shoona, LLC

As a Health Care Provider it is easy to get caught up in the feeling that virtual health visits are “a breeze”, especially when you are seeing patients from the comfort of your own home. After all, it is “so relaxing” to work from home, right? Trust me, as a seasoned telehealth provider myself, I’m with you.

However, and this is a big one: We are still seeing patients, and it’s not all smooth sailing.

This is because we are seeing patients in their “natural habitat” if you will, reaching them in their homes while also working from our own.

Patients are often surrounded by their loved ones, and anyone else that may live with them, including the occasional visitor.

In this way, we get a glimpse into their daily lives, where we may actually see what’s in the bathroom cabinet, or on the dinner plate. With this comes a lot of access and information, but also a lot of background noise, and I don’t mean just the audio kind!

It can be overwhelming to see a pediatric patient over video for instance, when there are 3 siblings and a dog watching cartoons in the background whilst jumping on couches.

Family members (such as in-laws or partners) that might otherwise stay home during an in-office visit are now also part of the interaction.

Suddenly there are additional opinions voiced in the background of a video call by people who otherwise would have stayed home babysitting.

This can be good information for providers at times (such as the wife pointing out the patient actually DID have a fever), however it can also have a negative impact.

This can be, on a continuum, anywhere from slightly annoying, to distracting, to disruptive in regards to the patient's care.

Family member interactions are certainly something providers learn to navigate for “in-office” visits of course. However, this type of background noise may be harder to ignore on a video visit, especially given poor audio quality, and a patient that acts like a moving target as they try to manage their household while speaking to you on a phone or computer screen.

The truth is, that while you are working hard as a provider to prepare yourself and your environment to be conducive to a meaningful encounter, your patients are NOT always doing the same.

Imagine trying to diagnose a rash, while your patient is holding their iPhone upside down in the bathroom mirror for instance.

Or the patient who is driving, or grocery shopping while speaking with you because, let’s face it, that is what many of us do all day long… MULTITASK.

To a provider who is trying to get solid information from a patient in order to make sound decisions, that lack of focus on the patient’s part can be quite draining.

Then, add in the fact that we are also sometimes working from our own homes which comes with its own set of distractions, such as the aforementioned kids and dogs watching cartoons jumping on couches, or the super loud neighborhood leaf blowers.

Overall, we know that virtual visits have changed the landscape of medicine in a profound and permanent way.

It is time though to acknowledge that we have some work to do in developing an etiquette for this new type of medical care.

An etiquette that providers are working on, but patients are often oblivious to so far.

As providers, we can and should EMPOWER ourselves and each other to set boundaries that start to enforce an understanding that a virtual visit is still a medical visit.

It is fair and crucial for us to expect that during a virtual visit our patients will be in a quiet, private environment, where they can answer our questions without distractions and ensure a physical exam is possible to the extent that virtual visits allow.

It is also fair and necessary to let a patient know, kindly and gently of course, that you are not able to make a good assessment in their current situation and to recommend that they connect with you again once they are able to get away from distractions.

In doing so, providers can prevent burn-out for themselves while at the same time helping to usher in the paradigm shift that virtual medical visits, much like other visits or conversations, are a time to CONNECT and not to multitask.

“Going visiting” used to mean that we went to see someone in-person to connect with them. As providers, we need to bring back that idea of being PRESENT for CONNECTION with others when delivering or receiving medical care….. for the sake of ourselves, each other, and the patients.

Here at Shoona, we see an opportunity to improve and expand on this concept of CONNECTION paired with PRESENCE in Telehealth. As experienced telehealth providers ourselves, we have discovered the Art of Telehealth in our own practices and are here to share this concept with you because we see clearly the plentiful benefits for all.

Be sure to check out all of our blog posts, services, educational videos and tools to learn more about providing the best virtual care possible!

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