Staying Connected, Virtually

By Robert L. Moore, MD, MPH, MBA, Chief Medical Officer

“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”
–Brene Brown

The physical separation forced on us by COVID-19 has led us to better value the connections we have with each other. Video connections can help (compared to email and phone calls) but nothing beats the in-person sighting of a friend or family member, even while wearing a mask.

Not shaking hands or hugging can take a toll, though. Human touch between friends is associated with release of oxytocin, the hormone that stirs maternal and paternal bonding to children. In a sign of the times, blankets containing weighted glass beads that mimic the effect of a hug have seen increases in sales during the pandemic.

Seeing warm friendly smiles from co-workers and strangers is also a rare event.  Seeing a smile triggers the brain’s mirror neuron system, the physiologic foundation for empathy, a key component of successful clinical and professional interactions as well as a promoter of positive feelings.

For health care professionals, the increased use of virtual patient visits, and virtual meetings with colleagues, can impact our professional satisfaction and identity. There are many ways to mitigate this:

  1. Use video instead of telephone for interactions where possible
  2. Ensure video setups allow consistently good quality video and audio
  3. Adjust content to allow more back and forth communication
  4. Use expressive eye contact when interacting while wearing a mask or on a video call


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