Here are four things to know about telehealth and its advantages and disadvantages as a job option:
What is telehealth?
While telehealth is a fairly recent innovation in the medical services industry, it's nothing mysterious. Also known as "healing at a distance," it's a way health care providers and patients employ both electronic information and telecommunication technology as part of the patient-provider relationship, according to HealthIT.gov, an imformation resource from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Nurses are on the forefront here. According to The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, "as one of the most widespread professionals with high level skills, nurses across America are called to action to determine how to leverage informatics and technology in the transformation of care delivery to improve the nation's health with high quality, cost efficient and convenient care."
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Nurses also stand to reap rewards from this new frontier, according to the journal. "Through telehealth technologies, nurses entering the healthcare field today will experience better nurse-patient relationships and an enhanced number of mechanisms in place for providing patient care."
While you may be thinking of telehealth only in terms of Skyping or Facetiming with patients, other popular applications include live videoconferencing, making videos ahead of time and transmitting them later and monitoring patients remotely with connected electronic tools.
Benefits for patients
Telehealth could be a savior in the battle to provide health care to underserved communities. It can also reduce waiting times at in-person clinics and grant more open access for psychiatric visits and routine follow-ups. The idea of walk-in telehealth services particularly appeals to the increasing number of younger patients who are technologically savvy.
Of course, there are potential drawbacks with any innovation. According to the Mayo Clinic, patients who use telehealth might suffer if their treatment isn't coordinated with their GP or when their medical history is so complex that a computer-driven diagnosis isn't appropriate.
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Where the nursing jobs are in telehealth
Nursing call centers are a fundamental telehealth application, where staff use a question-and-answer format to advise patients on care from their home. This is done without diagnosing or prescribing, however.
Nurses are also using telehealth in home health care, according to Duquesne University School of Nursing. A few examples include counseling, physical therapy, monitoring chronic disease and educating patients on self-care and their diagnosis.
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What type of nurse works best with telehealth
This is where the rubber meets the road. While telehealth is one wave of the future and extremely beneficial to both patients and providers, it takes certain strengths to succeed. To begin, it's very tech-dependent. "The nursing process and scope of practice does not differ with telenursing," telehealth researcher Loretta Schlachta-Fairchild explained on the National Center for Biotechnology Information website. "Nurses engaged in telenursing practice continue to assess, plan, intervene and evaluate the outcomes of nursing care, but they do so using technologies such as the internet, computers, telephones, digital assessment tools and telemonitoring equipment."
Before pursuing employment that involves telehealth technology, a nurse would need to be not just technically savvy, but interested in keeping up with the fast-paced developments in the telehealth arena. For example, DUSTIN, or Duquesne University Simulating Telepresence In Nursing, has already combined videoconferencing capabilities with robotic advancements, so nurses can move around the room or lab while they are using telehealth to educate patients or communicate with clients.
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It also gets back to the traditional concept of "high tech, high touch." The more advanced the technology, the more important it will be for nurses to be able to reach out to patients who are not in the room. While it may sound counter-intuitive, telehealth will not allow nurses to escape highly personal interactions with patients. Instead, technological advances will demand increased emotional intelligence from the nurses who use it on the job.
According to HospitalRecruiting.com, in addition to being confident and having good communication skills, nurses that use telehealth technology on the job also need to be self-starters. "There may be instances where healthcare professionals working in telemedicine are alone. For example, if you are a speech therapist, you may be working from home. It's helpful to be someone who is comfortable working independently."