Does a doctor’s telemedicine video background matter to patients?

Andis Robeznieks , Senior News Writer

AMA News Wire

Does a doctor’s telemedicine video background matter to patients?

Jul 11, 2024

A physician’s academic and training background matters to patients.

This principle also extends to what patients see behind their doctors during virtual visits, according to a study published in JAMA Network Open.

Noting that most physicians lack training in “webside manner,” researchers from the University of Michigan Medical School and the Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Healthcare System surveyed 1,213 patients from their respective institutions to measure preferences regarding the visual background seen during a video visit.

Making technology work for physicians

The AMA is working to make sure technology is an asset to physicians—not a burden.

Patients were shown pictures of a physician with a solid-color background, informal backgrounds showing a kitchen, bedroom and a book-filled home office, and formal backgrounds showing an exam room, sparsely decorated office, and an office with diplomas on the wall.

The backgrounds were rated by patients on a one-to-10 scale—with high scores showing greater preference—across six domains: how knowledgeable, trustworthy, caring, approachable and professional the physician appeared, and how comfortable the physician made the respondent feel.

Bedroom and kitchen backgrounds had the lowest scores by a significant margin. The home office, exam room and solid color all had roughly the same scores. Meanwhile, the physician office was slightly ahead of those backgrounds.

The background showing diplomas on the wall was far ahead of all of them. The researchers calculated that this background was preferred by 34.7% of respondents, compared with:

  • 18.4% for the physician office.
  • 14.4% for the solid color background.
  • 3.5% for the bedroom.
  • 2% for the kitchen.

“Numerous studies have found nonverbal communication to be a modifiable determinant of patient trust and satisfaction,” the researchers wrote, adding that health systems should prioritize having physicians perform telehealth visits within traditional environments. 

Congress moves in right direction

Even as research continues into patient preferences for telehealth and what blend of virtual and in-person visits generates the best outcomes, the Dec. 31 deadline for extending or making permanent the flexibilities granted during the COVID-19 public health emergency inches closer.

Unless Congress acts, telehealth use will go back to being subject to outdated regulations enacted before the widespread use of cell phones.

Though not a permanent solution, H.R. 8261, the Preserving Telehealth, Hospital and Ambulance Access Act, would extend vital telehealth provisions through 2026.

The bipartisan bill, introduced by Reps. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) and Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), was unanimously approved in May by the House Ways and Means Committee. The legislation calls for:

  • Extending exemptions to the outdated geographic and originating-site restrictions on telehealth services so Medicare beneficiaries can continue to receive services in their homes or any other site where they can access a telecommunications system, rather than being forced to travel to a designated brick-and-mortar location.
  • Continuing the moratorium on requiring an in-person visit within six months of the beneficiary receiving their first telemental health service.
  • Providing authority to offer audio-only telehealth services.

Members save on travel & entertainment

AMA members save up to 25% on car rental base rates at participating Hertz locations; get discounts on travel and cruises.

From AI implementation to EHR adoption and usability, the AMA is making technology work for physicians, ensuring that it is an asset to physicians—not a burden. The AMA also has achieved recent wins in five critical areas (PDF) for physicians.

The AMA also supports H.R. 4189/S. 2016, the CONNECT for Health Act, as well as H.R. 7623/S. 3967, the Telehealth Modernization Act, two bipartisan bills that permanently extend the three policies listed above.

“It is past time we make these flexibilities permanent and secure telehealth’s future as an essential element of our patient toolbox,” AMA Immediate Past President Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, MD, MPH, wrote in an AMA Leadership Viewpoints column.

Visit AMA Advocacy in Action to find out what’s at stake in supporting telehealth and other advocacy priorities the AMA is working on.

Fighting for Physicians

Get updates on how the AMA is fighting for physicians on critical issues—delivered to your inbox.


Figure speaking into a megaphone