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Creating Meaningful Connections in Virtual Care & Telehealth

woman staring into laptop and smiling while engaged in telehealth session

Times have changed in many ways since the introduction of COVID-19. We are all spending more time at home, wearing masks in public, wiping down more surfaces than we ever thought reasonable before, and handling many of our interactions virtually – including doctor visits, therapy sessions, and even meetups with friends and family.

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Have you noticed that when you video conference in a personal or professional setting, you wave hello and goodbye? While most of us wouldn’t usually wave hello or goodbye in person, many of us do this on video. In an article recently published on Tech Republic, Esther Shein delves into why we all feel compelled to wave. It comes down to compensating for the lack of physical interaction and the need to belong. Let’s explore ways to create meaningful connections in virtual care and telehealth.

What is a Meaningful Connection?

Traditionally meaningful connections were defined as focused attention with physical co-presence. However, in the days of social distancing, physical co-presence is a complicated thing to achieve. These days our meaningful connections need to adjust to virtual co-presence and focused attention from all participants.

Principle 1: Have a Polished and Engaged Presence

As simple as it may seem, presentation matters. Each participant should have their video on, be in an active listening state, and free from other distractions. This allows participants to share facial expressions and gestures. As shared in The Definitive Book of Body Language, “Albert Mehrabian, a pioneer researcher of body language in the 1950’s, found that the total impact of a message is about 7 percent verbal (words only) and 38 percent vocal (including tone of voice, inflection, and other sounds) and 55 percent nonverbal.” If our videos are turned off, we’re missing out on that 55 percent.

To be in an active listening state, we suggest that you are seated at your desk or table with a slight lean into the camera. Remember to keep open body language (no folded arms) and engage as other participants speak with simple nods or head tilts. While we all may be comfortable at home, video conferences are not the time to lounge on the couch. It will come across as disinterested or bored.

Freeing yourself from distractions also helps to stay focused and attentive to each participant. Video conferences are not the time to check emails, read the news, or any other activity on your screen. Others may not notice that you’re reading something, but they will notice that you’re not genuinely engaged.

Principle 2: Facilitate & Acknowledge the Challenges

Whether in-person or virtual, facilitation is key to any session’s success, but even more so when hosting group therapy sessions. Proper facilitation helps participants understand the right time to talk and interact. In a traditional physical setting, we have more queues to signal the flow of communication. For example, gaze awareness helps us understand who is speaking and who should speak next – unfortunately, that isn’t easy to achieve in video conferencing.

As pointed out in Gaze Awareness for Video Conferencing: A Software Approach, “The lack of gaze awareness in typical videoconferencing systems stems from the fact that when participants look at each other, they stare into their displays rather than into the camera, which is typically mounted above, below, or beside the display. Unless people look directly into the camera, you will never perceive them as making eye contact with you, no matter where you’re situated in relation to the display.”

However, an excellent facilitator can help overcome this by keeping participants engaged, directing the flow of conversation, and ensuring every person has the opportunity to contribute. It’s also important to acknowledge the challenges as you facilitate. Doing so will help ease the natural anxieties people face from the lack of physical closeness.

Principle 3: Leverage Chat Functionality

As we discussed above, one of the significant challenges is understanding the flow of communication and who should speak next. Online chat can come in very handy here. With chat, participants can submit questions or statements without interrupting the flow of communication, and the facilitator can receive signals of how to move the session forward smoothly. At the beginning of your sessions, remind participants that chat is not only available but also encouraged for use – as long as it is not distracting or creating side conversations.

Sunwave’s Telehealth chat functionality allows participants to message the entire group or specific individuals, such as the facilitator.

Principle 4: Everyone Participates

We can almost hear the groans around the room, like a 7th-grade gym class. But yes, it is imperative that everyone participates and has a chance to connect. As Psychology Today states, “This expectation might be uncomfortable at first, but psychologically it’s easier to participate if you know that everyone must do so. Over time, it becomes easier and more comfortable.” Better yet, when everyone participates, there will be more meaningful connections all around.

All-in-all don’t stop waving and accept the differences in video conferencing and Telehealth. Focus on creating meaningful connections and leverage the principles above to create a healthy and engaging session. To learn how Sunwave’s Telehealth & Patient Engagement can help you host better video conferencing, schedule a demo with one of our experts.