GRAND RAPIDS — Care providers seeing patients through telemedicine visits need to develop what Barry Brown call a “web-side manner.”
Talking to and coaxing information from ill patients on a video conference takes a different approach than if they were in an exam room together at the doctor’s office.
That’s why Answer Health on Demand, a Grand Rapids-based telemedicine platform, partners with Grand Valley State University to train students about the technology and how to use it for patient care.
The partnership with GVSU’s College of Health Professions started in January. The training is designed to teach students studying to become a physician assistant — a profession that is assuming more responsibility for providing basic medical care — the nuances of how to engage properly with patients via a telemedicine platform.
“We’re teaching them how to best use this technology to deliver care in a new way,” said Brown, the executive director of Answer Health on Demand.
“We really want to see the new crop of physicians and physician assistants coming into our industry understanding what telemedicine is,” he said. “We’re going to benefit in the long run in having mid-level providers — physician assistants and nurse practitioners — that are well versed in telemedicine. It makes sense to invest in them.”
Answer Health on Demand is a telemedicine service provided by Emergency Care Specialists in Grand Rapids — a medical group of emergency physicians — and Answer Health, an umbrella organization formed last year for independent doctors in the region.
The training consists of two physician assistant students per week who spend two to four hours job-shadowing Answer Health doctors to learn about telemedicine. They later spend time with doctors in telemedicine visits with patients.
Answer Health on Demand also conducts a two-hour lecture on the technology to cohorts of physician assistant students and discusses “where we’re headed and how they’re going to be providing care in the future,” Brown said. Students also learn about billing, reimbursements and the legal aspects of telemedicine.
Telemedicine is a rapidly emerging and growing field. Platforms allow patients to connect virtually with physicians for primary and urgent care or for specialist consultations. In primary and urgent care, Answer Health on Demand and Spectrum Health’s MedNow service enable doctors to leverage technology to examine and treat patients for minor conditions such as a fever, flu, ear or throat pain, rashes and prescription refills.
“Telemedicine is the future of health care, so we want our students to gain a general understanding of how it works and how it can be utilized,” said Martina Reinhold, assistant professor of physician assistant studies at GVSU. “We would like to be on the forefront.”
The job shadowing with Answer Health doctors is part of a course in the undergraduate physician assistant program that places students in clinical settings such as physical therapy, hospitals, respiratory care and other disciplines, Reinhold said.
The training introduces students to telemedicine and can help to get them over any discomfort or anxiety they may have in delivering care virtually, she said.
“The students are a little hesitant, as probably most people are when they think about delivering health care not in person but over a video link,” Reinhold said. “This experience is really critical for them to break down those walls and see, ‘Wow, I can do this. This actually works.’”
In one key aspect of developing a “web-side manner,” Answer Health on Demand teaches students to make sure they look directly into the camera when addressing patients virtually. Not making that eye contact with the patient “is a huge distraction in video communication,” Brown said.
That issue goes to the care providers having to gather information verbally, rather than through an additional physical exam, and “how to deliver good, quality clinical care without being able to touch the patient,” he said.