Patient appointments with healthcare staff by phone or video call – often known as virtual consultations – have increased hugely since the start of the pandemic and are likely to be here to stay. Now a new video starring South East London Cancer Alliance (SELCA) patients is sharing practical tips on how to overcome some of the concerns and make the best of your virtual consultation.
To find out more, SELCA Communications Manager Joe Sparks spoke with Paula Keogh, one of the stars of the new video.
Joe: Hi Paula, please could you tell us a little about your background and how you got involved with SELCA as a patient rep?
Paula: I’m originally a designer who has dabbled a bit in acting. I was treated in Guy’s Cancer Centre in 2017 and it was there that I heard of the patient group. I was so impressed with how I was treated at Guy’s Cancer Centre that I wanted to get involved from a patient perspective and share some of my skills.
Joe: You’re part of a SELCA community of practice – for those new to the term please could you explain a little more about what this does?
Paula: The community of practice is a working group that consists of patients, medic and admin staff. The aims of the group are to identify problems and find solutions. We all work together to brainstorm various issues and then look at ways to implement the suggestions.
Joe: What’s been your experience with virtual consultations and what prompted the Community of Practice to produce this video?
Paula: I’m very comfortable with technology and have no problems with virtual consultations but I am more than aware of how many people struggle with them. During lockdown my own mother had to be constantly reminded not to put the phone to her ear and to put it on speaker as all we were seeing was her ear.
Personally I found virtual consultations to be more personable as you were allowing your clinicians into your home and you were also able to see their homes. In reality virtual consultations shouldn’t be difficult or nerve wracking, we hope our simple step by step guide will help to take away some of the anxiety surrounding virtual consultations.
Joe: How did you and the other patients in the video decide what tips to share? Were there recurring themes that emerged?
Paula: Initially we looked at the process of the consultation and then we broke it down into key parts. Getting yourself organised beforehand was one of the main recurring themes as was making yourself familiar with the technology. Not being afraid to ask for help with the technology was also an important factor.
Joe: And could you give us a glimpse behind the scenes – what was it like to be filmed in your home recreating a virtual consultation?
Paula: We had decided on the script beforehand and we all knew which parts we would be playing. Jack at Frontline had done a COVID-19 test before he arrived and in keeping with COVID-19 guidelines all our windows were open and he wore a mask throughout the shoot to keep us safe.
The night before he arrived was a flurry of cleaning and tidying as we were not sure which rooms would be used. I seem to remember finding an accessible plug socket that was photogenic being a challenge!
All in all it was a great experience and Jack made us feel very comfortable and relaxed.
Joe: Finally – what would be your key takeaway for both healthcare staff and patients so that both sides can make the most of virtual consultation?
Paula: Preparation, preparation, preparation. For the patient getting your technology charged and knowing how to work it, as well as knowing what questions you want to ask in advance. An old fashioned pen and paper are invaluable for this.
For the healthcare staff having a quite room to work from with minimal distractions and also a list of questions for the patient. With this in mind we designed a cheat sheet to use in virtual consultations to help staff focus on the patients needs.
Treat me as a person, use my name and be interested in me.
Ask how I am. What I would like to get from this consultation. Do I have any worries? Is there anything I would like you to know?
Have you called me too early? Have you kept me waiting? Is this a good time for me to speak at length with you? A one-hour appointment window is reasonable. Remember I have a life too.
Find out what’s most important to me and what matters to me? NOT “what’s the matter with me?”
Show empathy by giving me time and space to feel, think and speak. I don’t need you to fix everything.
Use clear and straightforward language when talking with me as I may find some medical terminology confusing and it may hinder our building a rapport. However, avoid 'dumbing down' and appearing to patronise me.
Put down your agenda so you can really listen to me. I want to feel heard and understood
Work with me to explore what support I have or need, what I think would help me and how best you can give me support. I may have the best and most suitable solutions.