Virtual consultations have become increasingly important for dentists to continue seeing patients during COVID-19. And they will doubtless remain a part of the new patient journey as practices continue to recover, rebuild and move forwards in the aftermath of the pandemic.
To help you embrace the transition to virtual consultations and make them as effective and professional as possible, we have put together this handy guide of hints and tips:
Choose the right software
A lot of us became au fait with Zoom during COVID-19, and most iPhone users will probably have experienced FaceTime even before the pandemic. If you’re going to be using video calls in the practice, you need to make sure you choose the right software that will make sure you can offer as professional a service as you would in the practice.
Many dentists have been using specialist platforms such as Dental Monitoring and SmileMate, as they offer extra facilities such as the ability to brand to your practice and obtain digital consent. It could be worthwhile trialling which software suits you best through free demos and role plays.
Set patient expectations
Firstly, you need to let your patients know that you are going to be doing virtual consultations when it’s feasible. You need to let them know as early as possible that their future appointment(s) could be done online and what that entails.
A lot of patients have probably never experienced this before, so you need to tell them what to expect and give them a step-by-step guide of what will happen. You can do both of these things through your regular patient communication channels, i.e. phone calls, emails, videos and other posts on social media platforms, etc.
Gather as much information as you can beforehand
Do as much as you can before the virtual consultation to get whatever information you may need. For example, you can email your patient any dental health or medical questionnaires, any registration forms if they are new, ask them to send in any images of their teeth if necessary, etc.
Make it as easy as possible for them to provide you with the right type of information. For example, you could create a video of a member of your own team taking photos of their teeth to show them how best to do it, or share the kinds of images you will need. This will make the virtual appointment more efficient.
Make sure that information is handed over
Have a handover from whoever collects that data to the clinician doing the consultation, much as you would normally do in the practice. That way, when they see the patient during the consultation, they can say ‘I know you’re worried about this tooth, and you’ve mentioned you’re unhappy with the impact it’s had on your smile and so that’s what we’re going to focus on today’.
The patient will feel they have been listened to, their issues understood and grateful that they don’t have to go through their whole story twice.
You still need to build rapport
We all know how key rapport is to building your relationships with patients. This may feel harder to do when you’re not physically in the room but you can still be aware of creating an open posture, maintaining eye contact, having positive body language and making sure you’re smiling.
Feeling like you’re ‘on camera’ can make people freeze. If you’re nervous about being on video, have a practise first – either do a role play with colleagues or family members, or just practice talking into a camera on your own until you feel more comfortable.
Give yourself more time for appointments
This will also help with building rapport. Patients are going to want to talk about their, and your, experience of COVID-19 and you might need to talk about changes you’re making/have made in the practice.
Build in some extra time to allow for that more personal, human conversation. You may also need to explain things in more detail than you would if you were physically together. Creating longer appointments will mean there should be less stress if you do find that they take more time.
You still need to be professional
Wherever you’re conducting your appointments, use a quiet room and be aware of what’s behind you – make sure it looks neat and tidy and, if possible, have some surgery branding in the background. Choose a nice bright room and if there’s a window, sit facing towards it rather than in front of it, which will cast you in shadow. Turn your phone to silent mode and wear your uniform. Ultimately, your setting and you should look as professional as it would be if the patient was there with you.
For more ideas on the technical aspects of filming a video consultation, watch this short film.