5 Skills for a Career Providing Telehealth

Last Updated: 08 September 2022

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Healthcare professionals who joined the industry over five years ago probably didn’t expect to be seeing a large portion of their patients through the screen of a digital device.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, the Australian healthcare system has seen a huge uptake of telehealth amongst both consumers and providers.

What skills should healthcare professionals develop – or even master – in order to stay up-to-date and effective in their roles that now utilise telehealth?

1. Digital literacy

Digital literacy includes:

  • Using digital devices, such as phones, computers and TVs, with confidence

  • Staying safe online

  • Handling data efficiently

Some great ways to improve your digital literacy are:

  • Try new things on your own devices, and troubleshoot on your own

  • Pick up digital lingo by regularly reading the technology section of your favourite newspaper

  • Pursue digital literacy education through your workplace

This being said, a large portion of professional digital literacy is being able to accurately identify what is not working so you can pass that information over to your organisation’s IT technician or support team.

So, if you find the act of increasing your digital literacy daunting, remind yourself that all you have to be able to do is identify a problem and request support. From there, you can take your time gaining confidence and intuitive understanding.

2. Adaptability

Adaptability goes hand in hand with digital literacy: you need to be able to move between telehealth software with confidence.

It’s important to understand – and be able to find – the core components of your workplace’s central management system or telehealth software. The core components can include the settings application, the feature that commences a telehealth appointment, the notes section and the patient details section.

These core components will all be relatively similar across whichever software you’re using. So, if you change jobs or your workplace switches to a new software, you’ll still be able to work efficiently straight away.

3. Flexibility

Though there’s been a surge of patients and healthcare consumers using telehealth, not everyone will want to – or be able to – conduct their appointments virtually.

This means, as a healthcare professional, you’ll probably have to be prepared to jump from one type of appointment to the other throughout your day.

With this in mind, it’s important to remain flexible and open-minded. You’re likely to be pulled in many directions at once, which will take some getting used to.

One way to get used to it is discuss the feeling of being pulled two ways throughout your shift with your colleagues or friends in the industry who may be experiencing it in their own practice. It may take some getting used to, but it’s good to remind yourself that others are in the same boat.

4. Communication skills

Verbal communication

Verbal communication is key when it comes to participating in virtual appointments: when most of your body language is removed from an interaction, it’s important to provide more context using verbal communication.

Your patients need to feel seen and listened to just as much now as they did back when everyone was still meeting face-to-face.

Additionally, clarity is not the only important element of verbal communication. Empathy that steps over (or through) the barrier of a screen is also essential.

Written communication

You might be writing follow-ups, summaries of appointments, or creating handovers that will be read by other departments, practitioners or services. No matter what you’re doing, clear and concise written communication can drastically improve a patient’s care experience and the support they receive.

5. Coaching skills

You may find yourself in a position where you need to guide or coach patients through certain aspects of the telehealth experience, such as starting their video, focusing their device’s camera, or entering details such as dates of birth or phone numbers.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that around 87% of Australians used the internet in the three months preceding a study in 2017 (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2020). That means around 13% of Australians do not use the internet regularly: this report also showed that in 2018, people with disabilities and older adults were the most likely not to use the internet (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2020).

As such, it’s becoming more important for healthcare professionals to be able to guide their patients through the basic use of their devices, especially as more Australians turn to telehealth.

Developing skills – as well as a streamlined process – for coaching patients will not only save time, but it will also save frustration and mental fatigue during your shift.

What else is there to learn?

To learn more about transferring skills to your colleagues, read the following article from The Handover: How to Teach a Colleague a New Skill | Ausmed.

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Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2020. ‘Use of information technology by people with disability, older people and primary carers.’ Australian Bureau of Statistics: Disability, Aging and Carers. Accessed 9 September 2022 via https://www.abs.gov.au/articles/use-information-technology-people-disability-older-people-and-primary-carers

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