This article offers an overview of how virtual consultations work for bariatric surgery.
While COVID-19 may have triggered a surge in telehealth visits, there are no signs that the trend is slowing. Knowing how to lead effective virtual consultations can increase surgery follow-through rates and improve patient outcomes.
If you’re still feeling uncomfortable using technology to conduct patient visits, read on to learn how virtual consultations work for bariatric surgery.
- Establishing clear telehealth policies for online consultations helps standardize workflows and improve the quality of care.
- Demonstrating respectful virtual etiquette during telehealth consultations improves rapport and strengthens patient-provider relationships.
- Providing patients with tailored checklists and digital options to submit data helps them complete pre-surgery tasks more easily, improving the likelihood they’ll proceed with surgery.
Telehealth: Laying the Groundwork
Research suggests that telehealth may help reduce patient barriers, improve surgical follow-through rates, and minimize lost revenue. For example, in 2020, no-show rates for all pre-operative visits fell to around 10%, an improvement from the prior year when in-person visits were more common.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recommends establishing clear telehealth workflows. This ensures consistent patient experiences and standardized quality of care.
Consider the following as you lay the groundwork for your telehealth policies and procedures:
- Which days and times will virtual consultations be available?
- How will patients schedule telehealth appointments?
- Is your telehealth software HIPAA-compliant and do you have a BAA in place?
- How will you determine which patients are appropriate for virtual consultations and which patients need to be seen in person?
- What is the process for patients to complete pre-appointment intake forms?
- How will you receive patient consent before beginning the virtual consultation?
- How will you support patients with special needs (language barriers, hearing loss, limited internet access)?
- If caregivers are in attendance, how will you receive the patient’s consent to discuss personal medical information in their presence?
- How will you identify opportunities for process improvements?
- How will you manage cancellations, reschedules, and no-shows?
Anatomy of a Virtual Consultation for Bariatric Surgery Patients
The anatomy of a virtual consultation is similar to that of an in-person encounter, with a few distinct differences. The most significant benefit of virtual consultations is that they occur independently of geographic location. This enables patients with limited transportation options to access care.
However, virtual consultations do present unique communication challenges. Verbal and nonverbal gestures are amplified during virtual encounters, so paying attention to your body language throughout the visit is essential. The slightest shifts in facial expression could communicate the wrong message to your patients.
Here are some key considerations when conducting virtual consultations::
Spend the first few minutes engaging in small talk to help establish rapport and set the tone for the visit. If you jump right into the consultation, patients may feel uncomfortable. Pay special attention to your body language during this time. Leaning forward slightly toward the camera shows that you are engaged and interested, encouraging the patient to relax.
Obtain Patient Consent
Before proceeding with the consultation, you’ll need to obtain the patient’s consent to treat them via a virtual format. This could be as simple as asking, “Do I have your permission to treat you using video?”
Setting expectations before proceeding with the consultation can improve outcomes. Let the patient know how long the visit will take and what you’ll be discussing. Establishing a protocol for obtaining informed consent sets patient expectations early and can also reduce liability risks.
Collect Patient-Reported Data
One drawback to virtual assessments is that physicians must rely solely on patient-collected data. Patient-reported data may include weight, blood pressure, temperature, or other functional assessments. Providers should carefully instruct patients on how to collect accurate information. Findings suggest that patient self-reported weights are reliable within 2.7 pounds.
Assess the Patient
As you assess the patient, process your thoughts aloud while you type notes into the medical record. This allows patients to participate by making corrections or adding additional data.
Summarize the Visit
Before bringing the visit to a close, summarize your findings and invite the patient to ask questions. This ensures that patients feel heard and validated, further building trust and rapport.
Provide Guidance on Next Steps
Before you end the consultation, ensure the patient understands what to do next. Research shows that nearly 50% of qualified patients never pursue bariatric surgery. To increase follow-through rates, surgeons must guide patients through the process to ensure they understand their roles and responsibilities.
Providing patients with tailored checklists can help them navigate insurance requirements and pre-surgery tasks. When patients feel confident about what’s expected of them, they’ll be more likely to stay committed to the process. If they are unclear about what to do next, they may do nothing.
Virtual Consultations: Best Practices
Respectful telehealth etiquette is essential to establish rapport and trust with your patients. Consider these best practices as you conduct virtual consultations:
- Maintain Eye Contact: Throughout the consultation, be sure to look directly at the patient through your camera lens. If possible, you may want to position the patient’s video stream in the center of your screen just below the camera.
- Be Transparent: If you plan to take notes during the consultation, let the patient know in advance. Otherwise, they may think you’re checking email or multitasking. For example, you can casually say, “I’ll be taking notes throughout our visit today in case you hear me typing in the background.”
- Minimize Movement: Some patients report feeling annoyed or distracted when providers frequently play with their hair, fidget, or shift posture during telehealth visits. Likewise, custom backgrounds can be distracting for patients.
- Optimize Technology: Invest in a high-quality camera and encourage patients to find a location with high-speed internet during the visit.
- Comply with Privacy Laws: HIPAA also applies to telemedicine, so it’s important to ensure that your software complies with current privacy laws.
Optimize Your Bariatric Surgery Virtual Consultations with Wellbe
Pre-surgical virtual consultations are just one way you can use telehealth in your practice. Post-surgical virtual consultations may also be a practical approach to help patients continue making progress with their weight loss journey.
If you need help fine-tuning your bariatric surgery virtual solutions, Wellbe can help. Using our virtual check-ins, online patient navigation tools, and patient-reported outcomes, you can help your patients prepare for and recover from bariatric surgery quicker.
Improve the quality and outcomes of your virtual consultations by contacting Wellbe today.