February 18, 2021

5 Tips to Build Rapport in Telehealth

by Sally Hammer

“Our minds are together when our bodies feel we’re not. That dissonance, which causes people to have conflicting feelings, is exhausting. You cannot relax into the conversation naturally.”

These words from Insead professor Ginapiero Petriglieri explain why virtual interactions can take so much more out of us than in-person ones.

Telehealth is a TREMENDOUS blessing. It has allowed countless physical therapists to remain employed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and greatly expanded patient access to quality care.

Still, Zoom fatigue is legit.

According to BBC Workplace, “Being on a video call requires more focus than face-to-face chat… [requiring that we] work harder to process non-verbal cues.”

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What’s more?

A 2014 study revealed that delays as slight as 1.2 seconds led people to “perceive the responder as less friendly or focused.”

This can make it especially challenging for PTs to build rapport through telehealth technologies.

Bearing all of this in mind, here are 5 simple but effective tips to facilitate meaningful connection between you and your patients… virtually!

New to the world of telehealth? Check out “Preparing for the Only Certainty: Digital Transformation in PT” to learn how PtEverywhere makes telehealth a breeze. Now, onto the main course:

1. Cultivate a conducive environment.

Set yourself up in a well-lit, private space. Feel free to position yourself in front of artwork or intentionally selected objects to create an inviting atmosphere, but be mindful to avoid clutter and distractions. Be sure to introduce your client to any other consultants present in the room.

3. Establish a disconnection procedure.

Clear planning and expectation setting can seriously reduce telehealth anxieties. At the beginning of your call (or even beforehand), tell your patient what to do should you be disconnected. It can be beneficial to have your patient’s telephone number on hand as a backup option.

3. Look at the camera, not the screen.

While the inclination is to look at your patient while she’s speaking, looking at the camera is what allows your client to feel like you’re making eye contact. You needn’t stare at the camera the entire time, but do your best to make it a habit.

4. Inform patients of off-screen activities.

Tell your patient ahead of time if you plan to take notes or look at medical records. While these are reasonable things to do, you may appear distracted if your patient doesn’t know what you’re up to.

5. Don’t forget reflective listening.

When you’re looking at a screen, it can be easy to neglect practices you’d normally adhere to during in-person meetings. Check that you’re nodding your head along with what your patient is saying, offering affirmations where appropriate, and re-summarizing your patient’s main points. Follow up with open-ended questions to deepen your understanding.

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