Experts weigh in on the joys and woes of virtual nursing

Telehealth work isn’t for everyone

Nurse Shares 8 Things She Won't Do Once Quarantine Lifts.

Telehealth has reached new heights in popularity following a workforce-crippling pandemic. That being said, not all healthcare heroes are behind the concept of virtual nursing.

According to a survey by NSI Nursing Solutions, registered nurse turnover stood at roughly 27% in 2022. Meanwhile, RN vacancy rates were at 17.1%. According to Medpage Today, all of those nursing vacancies have hit the healthcare industry with a growing knowledge gap. Virtual nursing is partially designed to close that gap.

New nurses are “scared to death” of making a mistake when they first come onto the floor, Wendy Deibert, MBA, BSN, senior vice president of clinical solutions for Caregility, told Medpage Today.

“They’re thrown into a world... with not a lot of experience behind them,” she said. “So having a button on the wall where you can push... at a moment’s notice and get a nurse in that room to assist (is a huge help).

“I can zoom in to [see] exactly what they’re doing and give direction and support, so that they don’t feel like they’re out there on a limb by themselves. Not only does that boost their confidence, but it also really stops that turnover, because if they get too scared and do not feel supported, they’re not going to stay there.”

Steve Polega, BSN, RN, chief nursing officer of University of Michigan Health-West, however, believes utilizing virtual nursing is a lost cause.

“As a nurse of 25 years, I believe that nursing is a calling and a gift,” he told Becker’s Hospital Review. “It is a huge responsibility to be trusted by our patients and families to be the eyes, ears and caring hands at the bedside. Nursing is all about connecting with people. To earn that trust, I believe that you need to be at the bedside. Nursing is about that kind touch, that smile, those reassuring things that we can do for patients and families.

“It is very challenging to have that real human connection through virtual care. I think we all lose if this trend continues. We have to optimize our technologies to make our nurses more efficient and effective, but at the end of the day, nurses put the humanity into care and need to be present and at the bedside.”

It’s a point that perhaps needs to be put to the test.

Saint Luke’s Health System of Kansas City took advantage of an opportunity to significantly implement virtual nursing in 2019, before the pandemic. The hospital constructed a 33 bed nursing unit at one of its four facilities, utilizing a new care model and workflow.

“It was important that the model had an impact for both the nursing staff and the patient experience,” Jennifer Ball, RN, BSN, MBA, director of virtual care at Saint Luke’s Health System, told the American Nurses Association. “We looked at what could be taken off the plate of the bedside RN and completed by a nurse on camera in the patient room. We included tasks such as admission database, discharge teaching, medication reconciliation, completing procedure checklists, second nurse sign off for meds/skin checks, general education/teaching for the patients, contacting families, answering questions, and the list goes on.

“When these items are completed by the virtual RN, that frees up the time of the bedside RN to have more time to manage physical needs of the patents, answer call lights sooner, and generally have more time with the patients.”

The unit opened in Feb. 2021 and has since experienced several workflow changes. According to Ball, the unit’s operation since its opening has allowed for a few lessons.

“You can never have too much education, training, and information shared,” she said. “Staff have to be flexible, like change, and be willing to try new things. Start your planning early, be wiling to adjust things, and figure out your technology early on. Get everyone involved from the beginning: other disciplines and staff that will be interacting with the new care model.”