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Seeing Your Doctors Via Zoom? What's Behind Them Matters
  • Posted May 16, 2024

Seeing Your Doctors Via Zoom? What's Behind Them Matters

Telehealth has made it possible for doctors to deliver care from anywhere, but a professional-looking background helps patients feel more confident about their care and advice, a new study finds.

Even if doctors are miles away from the clinic or exam room, they should make it look like they're there, according to results published May 15 in the journal JAMA Network Open.

And patients feel even better if the doctor is sitting in an office with diplomas hanging on the wall, or in front of a virtual background that displays such an office, researchers found.

A home office with a bookshelf or a plain solid-color background also are acceptable to patients, the study found. 

But doctors should use blurred or virtual backgrounds if they carry out a visit in a home environment with a kitchen or a bed in the background, results show.

"Patients have expectations of what physicians' attire and workspaces should look like. This study showed that patients prefer what have been previously termed traditional or professional attire and settings,"said lead researcher Dr. Nathan Houchens, an associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan.

"Diplomas and credentials remind patients of the expertise they expect a physician to have, and conversely, something is lost when the background conveys a relaxed, informal home environment,"Houchens added in a university news release.

For the study, researchers surveyed more than 1,200 patients who had seen a provider at either the University of Michigan's academic medical center, Michigan Medicine or the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System.

Researchers were surprised by how much patients disliked kitchen and bedroom settings for telehealth visits, with only 2% and 3.5% saying they preferred those backgrounds, respectively.

That's compared with 35% of those who preferred an office with displayed diplomas, 18% for a physician's office, 14% for a plain color background, and about the same for an exam room or a home office with a bookshelf.

Further, the bedroom and kitchen backgrounds made patients feel less positive about receiving care from that provider.

The researchers recommended that doctors conduct telehealth visits from an office or exam room, or that they create virtual backgrounds that simulate those types of professional settings.

Some clinics have created dedicated spaces for telehealth visits, and those should look as professional as possible.

"This is a reminder that patients often do care about some of the details that providers and health systems may not have emphasized,"Houchens said. "It's important to remember that our words and our nonverbal behaviors are taken to heart by those we care for, and it behooves us to care about them as well."

 More information

The Health Resources and Services Administration has more about telehealth.

SOURCE: University of Michigan, news release, May 15, 2024

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