Recently, one of my coaching clients came to our Zoom session looking exhausted. I wasn’t surprised. She’s a physician, a leader at her hospital, and the past two years have been a lot for her. COVID takes its toll in many ways, and it has changed her forever. But this day her biggest challenge was something a little bit different. She was tired of cameras.
“I’m seeing so many patients through telemedicine right now. And I love the chance to see them at home, in their environment, with their families. But I’m so tired of being on camera, in a box, without the benefit of body language or touch. I’m tired of having to clean up my face, or myself, every time I want to interact with someone. Sometimes I just want to turn the camera off.”
“We’re zooming right now. So tell me, what stopped you from suggesting we do our session by phone instead of Zoom.” I said.
She paused, looked around, laughed, and said, “I didn’t realize I had a choice.”
She did. We do. And it’s time we start realizing that we have choices, and start advocating for the choice that will serve us (and ultimately those we serve) best. Because while the huge increase in telemedicine is wonderful in many ways, it also leaves many practitioners exhausted, distracted, and feeling powerless. And that doesn’t help anyone.
For twenty years, I defended doctors when they were sued, and now I coach female leaders from all industries on how to advocate for themselves and their potential with the tools of a trial lawyer. I know that when doctors are exhausted, distracted and powerless they’re more likely to be sued. They’re also more likely to burnout, less likely to enhance the patient experience, and more likely to have complications. And I know there is another way.
Telemedicine is here to stay, and that’s a good thing. Telehealth can facilitate access to care, reduce the risk for transmission of SARS-CoV-2, conserve scarce medical supplies, and reduce strain on health care capacity and facilities while supporting continuity of care. More and more practices across the country are incorporating telemedicine into their practices. According to 2019 Health Center Program Data, 43 percent of health centers were capable of providing telemedicine, compared with 95 percent of the health centers that reported using telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic. And for many doctors/patients, telemedicine is a gift.
I recently had Dr. Jennifer Haythe on my podcast, The Elegant Warrior. We discussed her recent WSJ piece, where she praised the merits of virtual house calls. She is right. Many doctors love telemedicine for all the benefits it brings for doctors and patients alike. But for some doctors, all that camera time can be exhausting. And many of those most impacted are women.
A recent study in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that women, and newer employees, experienced higher levels of fatigue after video calls — regardless of the length of meetings. And women also faced greater concerns about image, including the appearance of their hair, nails, and makeup. So if you’re a female resident or fellow who’s spending a lot of time on camera with Zoom meetings and telemedicine visits — you may be nodding off right about now.
“I didn’t realize I had a choice.”
That’s what my client said to me when I questioned why we were doing her session via Zoom. And sometimes doctors don’t have a choice but to do things in front of a camera. Telemedicine visits often need to be on camera so the doctor and patient can see each other, and the doctor can do a visual exam. But we have to recognize that there are times that what we hear in someone’s tone of voice can tell us even more than what we see. A study by Michael Kraus at Yale found that hearing may be better than sight when we’re trying to read emotion Doctors have to read a patient’s emotion as well as their temperature. So turning off the camera could be a diagnostic choice.
Even if you believe that all telemedicine must be done with a camera on, there are still times you can choose the phone. Administrative meetings, conferences with other doctors, catching up with friends — these can all be done by phone. And it is up to you to make that choice and advocate for it.
When I coach female leaders, I teach them the tools of an advocate. Questions are one of those tools, and a question can be magic here.
“Could we do this by phone?”
Don’t be afraid to ask it. Ask it of yourself, your patients, and your team. You have a choice. When you choose to advocate for your boundaries and turn off the camera, you may reduce the risk of burnout and improve everyone’s health.
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