Bedside manner over IM: how to keep a personal touch while remaining safe

Instant messaging can't replace face-to-face communications, but nurses and other healthcare workers can maintain a personal touch with these quick tips.

The term 'bedside manner' refers to how front-line healthcare professionals interact with patients. But, can this principle of care really be applied in a digital space? Can you maintain the personal touch over instant messaging?

Yes! After all, your goal is for patients to feel at ease, cared for and supported. Communication is a massive part of building that connection, whether in person, or via a different means.

Does bedside manner matter?

Spending time on personal interaction has a huge impact on patient experience. When choosing a provider:

  • 80 percent of Americans value how much time a physician spends with each patient.
  • In the same study, just 8 percent of respondents felt their physician being 'knowledgeable' was an important factor. (😬 Make of this what you will!)

In fact, a review of clinical trials found empathetic methods, such as employing patient-centered care, were actually aligned with a statistically significant improvement in health outcomes.

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The loss of the personal touch

Sadly, other studies show that empathy may be eroding in the medical profession. This is often due to stress-induced factors like time pressure and bureaucracy. And, of course, taking time to connect with a patient can feel impossible during a crisis.

In this anecdote, Dr. Shahdabul Faraz talks about how circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic impacted his bedside manner. And, what small steps he and his colleagues took to improve these interactions - such as by showing his ID so patients know what he looks like under the mask. It turns out these gestures really make a difference.

Telehealth tips

Telehealth and telemedicine refer to the use of remote technologies to deliver healthcare or health information.

During a pandemic, and in general, this delivery mechanism can offer a safe alternative way for you to provide compassionate care. A HIPAA-compliant instant messenger is a quick, easy way to build a rapport and trust with patients. Here are some IM best practices:

Get personal

Choose a smiling profile picture and make an introduction. Send your new patient a pre-prepared 'welcome package' with some fun information - the kind of thing you might chat about day-to-day under normal circumstances. Maybe mention your favorite hobby or breakfast item. Tell a joke. This all breaks the ice.

Check your tone of voice

Always use the patient's name in messages. This helps them feel seen. And, where appropriate, adopt an enthusiastic tone - dial it up so that you convey the feeling over IM, which can seem neutral and impersonal otherwise. If your patient is not in a good place, validate their feelings and use supportive phrasing like, 'The team and I will help you get through this.'

Allocate time

Have a 'tea and text' time, 'empathy hour' or dedicate five minutes here and there to 'bedside banter'. People love to share stories, so use prompts like, 'What's something you are grateful for in your life?' or 'When did you last witness an act of kindness?' Share a 'good vibes' collection call around your patients, such as, 'What anonymous words of encouragement would you give to another patient?'

What next?

A chatbot called 'Doctor Covid' has been helping to lift spirits of 3000 patients in care facilities with wellbeing check-ins and movie recommendations. This doesn't quite live up to the real thing, sure. But, it helps to think of technologies like AI and IM as part of a toolkit. What piece of tech can you try, today, to have a positive impact?

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