Video Consultations Between Patients and Clinicians in Diabetes, Cancer, and Heart Failure Services: Linguistic Ethnographic Study of Video-Mediated Interaction
Background: Video-mediated clinical consultations offer potential benefits over conventional face-to-face in terms of access, convenience, and sometimes cost. The improved technical quality and dependability of video-mediated consultations has opened up the possibility for more widespread use. However, questions remain regarding clinical quality and safety. Video-mediated consultations are sometimes criticized for being not as good as face-to-face, but there has been little previous in-depth research on their interactional dynamics, and no agreement on what a good video consultation looks like.
Objective: Using conversation analysis, this study aimed to identify and analyze the communication strategies through which video-mediated consultations are accomplished and to produce recommendations for patients and clinicians to improve the communicative quality of such consultations.
Methods: We conducted an in-depth analysis of the clinician-patient interaction in a sample of video-mediated consultations and a comparison sample of face-to-face consultations drawn from 4 clinical settings across 2 trusts (1 community and 1 acute care) in the UK National Health Service. The video dataset consisted of 37 recordings of video-mediated consultations (with diabetes, antenatal diabetes, cancer, and heart failure patients), 28 matched audio recordings of face-to-face consultations, and fieldnotes from before and after each consultation. We also conducted 37 interviews with staff and 26 interviews with patients. Using linguistic ethnography (combining analysis of communication with an appreciation of the context in which it takes place), we examined in detail how video interaction was mediated by 2 software platforms (Skype and FaceTime).
Results: Patients had been selected by their clinician as appropriate for video-mediated consultation. Most consultations in our sample were technically and clinically unproblematic. However, we identified 3 interactional challenges: (1) opening the video consultation, (2) dealing with disruption to conversational flow (eg, technical issues with audio and/or video), and (3) conducting an examination. Operational and technological issues were the exception rather than the norm. In all but 1 case, both clinicians and patients (deliberately or intuitively) used established communication strategies to successfully negotiate these challenges. Remote physical examinations required the patient (and, in some cases, a relative) to simultaneously follow instructions and manipulate technology (eg, camera) to make it possible for the clinician to see and hear adequately.
Conclusions: A remote video link alters how patients and clinicians interact and may adversely affect the flow of conversation. However, our data suggest that when such problems occur, clinicians and patients can work collaboratively to find ways to overcome them. There is potential for a limited physical examination to be undertaken remotely with some patients and in some conditions, but this appears to need complex interactional work by the patient and/or their relatives. We offer preliminary guidance for patients and clinicians on what is and is not feasible when consulting via a video link.