Telehealth is growing and will be a market driver for health systems. The concept of virtual nurses is still new and will require both patients and staff to adjust. As more and more patients become aware of the benefits of telehealth, U.S. hospitals are starting to adopt these programs, requiring more skilled nurses to manage them.
Nursing has evolved over the past few decades. The commonly perceived view of the nurse at the bedside, monitoring a patient’s vital signs or assisting physicians during rounds, has changed. With the advent of new digital technologies in health care, such as telehealth and remote monitoring tools, today’s nurse can be practically virtual.
Alice Sneed, a critical care nurse at Banner Health, a health system serving seven states in the Western United States, has spent the last eight years working in telehealth, as a “virtual nurse.” On average, she is monitoring 40 to 45 patients every day, across three to six facilities in the region.
Her job is to provide care to patients and support to nurses when they need it most, especially at remote community hospitals that do not have specialized ICUs. When these hospitals admit high acuity patients, the virtual telehealth command center allows monitoring patients remotely, so these local care teams can keep the patient in their community hospital.
|The eICU environment at Banner Health is designed to bring care to the patient. Alice’s workstation has three large monitors, with six split screens connected with patients’ monitors. Her two computers are linked to the Philips eICU software called eCareManager, as well as the patients’ electronic medical records, capturing detailed notes about the patients’ conditions. The cameras they use have extremely high definition.|
Nurses have traditionally been the earliest adopters of new technologies, and access to these tools has not only enhanced patient care, but is also changing the playing field for nurses. Here are some ways the “virtual” environment is transforming nursing:
- Expanding nurses’ specialization – Telehealth nurses need to be tech focused, with the majority of their role being behind a computer screen and heavily based on digital analytics. However, the new virtual nurse also has deeper knowledge and understanding of a variety of clinical specialties from neurology, cardiology, oncology, etc. Telehealth nurses are seen as a resource for clinicians, which means they can get all kinds of medical questions that need quick research and answers.
- Serving as a critical resource for all clinicians – A nurse may be responsible for several patients, but when working on a single patient, he/she must be – and can only be – focused only on that patient. With a telehealth program, nurses can feel confident that if they are wheeling one patient down for a test and another patient needs help, a remote nurse can attend to them immediately or call in another nurse on the floor to help provide care.
Increasing length of career – Nursing is a physically demanding job. Imagine moving a 200 pound patient, on a 350 pound bed, with a couple of hundred pounds of additional monitoring equipment needed for transport. Over time, these physical demands become more difficult. Telehealth provides nurses with the opportunity to extend their career.
The concept of virtual nurses is still new and will require both patients and staff to adjust. As more and more patients become aware of the benefits of telehealth, hospitals around the country are starting to adopt these programs, requiring more skilled nurses to manage them. Telehealth is growing and will be a market driver for health systems.