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An online patient consultation: 5 top tips for clinicians

White woman with short grey hair smiles at her laptop as she sits at a table in her home.

An online patient consultation is a fantastic way to upgrade and personalise widely used telephone consultations. But if you’re new to online patient consultations as a clinician, what are some tips to make the experience effective for all?

1. Get to know your online consultation equipment

Before you begin, check that you have the right equipment and that it’s working. There’s nothing worse than finding out your headset or microphone doesn’t work or has crackly noises in the background.

If you’re new to conducting online patient consultations, it’s always a good idea to request training before you begin seeing patients. That way you can get familiar with the software and hardware so that if you do run into problems, you can identify and fix any simple issues should they arise. It’s also a good idea to make sure you have the patient’s telephone number to hand in case anything goes awry and you can continue the consultation.

2. Rehearse your virtual consultation

Conducting an appointment through a online consultation platform may feel odd at first. It’s important to get familiar with the process. Ask a colleague to do a dry-run with you in different scenarios where one of you is the patient so that you can practise how you might need to respond in certain situations. Preparing like this will help ensure you and your patient get as much from the appointment as they would in a clinic.

3. Consider the security of the online consultation

When you call a patient, first verify their identity by asking for their name and date of birth and where they’re calling from. If you’re meeting the patient for the first time, start by introducing yourself and check whether the patient is comfortable, in a private space and if this is a good time to talk. As with any consultation, how well the appointment goes will depend on if they’re in a safe environment; if they’ve met you before; and if you’re aware of the context of the appointment.

4. Your work environment is key for online patient consultations

It’s important to make sure the patient knows their appointment is going to be conducted with the same professionalism as that in a clinic. If you’re working from home, make sure to set up your workstation in a private and secure place, away from noise, glare from lighting and unnecessary interruptions. This will help put the patient at ease during the call.

5. Keep patient experience central

Patients, particularly those who don’t often use technology, need to feel supported. As with any patient consultation, maintaining eye contact and open body language will help build trust and patient satisfaction. If you can, share with the patient any guidance for video consultations before the appointment. That way they know what the appointment will be like, what they need to do and how to maximise their consultation time.

For more information on virtual patient consultation best practice, please refer to BMJ’s Video consultations in primary and specialist care during the covid-19 pandemic and beyond

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