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10 Ways to Improve Your Webside Manner


The world of the Internet is vastly different than the friendly confines of a hospital ward. What should be the proper bedside manner when the doctor is miles away?

Doctor at bedside

Most patients judge their doctors not by the quality of their care, but by the content of their bedside manner. While that holds true, several things are changing how, when, and where that happens. Face-to-face care is being replaced by virtual care. Care clinics in the cloud have eliminated the bedside. Increasing specialization and models that use hospitalists have all but eliminated primary care docs and sub-specialists from making bedside rounds.

Bedside manners have been replaced with Webside manners. Very few medical schools teach it and doctors think that the same bedside manner skills they use in F2F (face-to-face) encounters will cut it with teleconsults. Not so. Nor do potential telemedicine companies looking for teledocs think so.

Here are some ways to improve your Webside manner:

1. Take a look at all those social media sites you use. Would you trust you based on what you see and what's posted?

2. Find a computer to replace you. Create an avatar so you don't even have to interact with patients anymore. You just charge the patient as if you were real. Practice automated empathy.

3. When things are not going well, say "I'm sorry but we must have a bad connection. I'm using Sprint," and hang up. Take a deep breath and regroup before, and if, you call back.

4. Since patients are now customers, don't worry about treating them with the same disrespect every other service industry does when they trash their customers and give them lousy customer service. Learn to say, "I'm sorry I can't help you with that but I'll be happy to connect you to tech support or customer service." Of course, you know where you are sending them—to tech support hell.

5. Make your tele-customers do most of the work, but don't reduce your prices or pass along your cost savings. I mean, isn't DIY medicine the future? Does Safeway or King Soopers give you a discount when you check out your own groceries? Does American Airlines cut the price of your ticket fuel when prices plummet? Are you kidding me? Just charge more for less and pile on the fees.

6. Don't have a clock that the patient can see. That way they will have a harder time knowing when their 10 minutes is up.

7. Practice on online dating sites before you start to see patients as a teledoc. At least the other party will tell you the truth, know that you are lying about your age, using a photo that is 20 years old and blow you off when you say the wrong things.

8. Dress the part, have the right props, and be sure you know your lines. It's theater. Fasten your halyards so they don't slap and give away the fact that you are rendering the consultation on a boat in the Antilles.

9. Have a message that says, "I'm sorry but the credit card information you entered is not valid. Please try again in 10 minutes." With any luck, the customer will try again and get someone else who is less grumpy.

10. Remember that all of your encounters will be monitored for "quality assurance". That means if you screw up too many times then you will be fired and can just go back to doing what you did before or find something else to do.

Screen time has replaced face time.

Webside manners these days are as crude and non-existent as regular manners. Unfortunately, Dear Dr. Abby won't be able to help you. You'll have to learn how to fly solo on your own until someone decides to teach you Webside manners as part of your MBA curriculum.

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Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice
Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice