I am great at eye contact with patients. It’s how we show ourselves as humans. The eyes are the windows to the soul. Through them we create trust, empathy and reciprocity.
When I’m with a patient face to face, it’s not always possible, but I do my best.
Like the IRL experience, I try to achieve a certain level of eye contact during telemedicine meetings. But care through a screen presents challenges for eye contact. The problem is that the only way to create this eye-to-eye connection is to look directly at my camera. That way I’m looking at the patient well. What they experience is that I connect directly with them in the most humane way. I hope it serves as an indicator of my focus and bandwidth.
The problem is that eye contact with telemedicine is an illusion. Because I can’t see them. All I see is the lens of my camera in this case. Outside my lower field of vision is my mother’s face and critical indications of her reaction to the things I say. Sometimes I do as I can see asserting facial expressions. But it’s part of a nice farce to make it all seem real to the family on the other side of the screen.
And of course, trying to record the note during the telemedicine visit adds another layer of disconnection.
Now there’s the real possibility that if you looked at them directly on the screen, people would see this lower focal point as if it were eye contact. A kind of separate focal point: a substitute for the IRL contact that the recipient fully understands. A new kind of human understanding for the connection of the 21st century.
I have heard that there is technology where a microcamera hangs in the middle of the screen. It allows you to see the person on the other side as you see them looking directly at them as they speak. Maybe that’s the answer.
Although telemedicine improves access to care, it always represents a commitment to human connection. The illusion of eye contact with telemedicine is just one example.
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