Nurses have long been the backbone of healthcare. As the ones on the front lines of patient care, many nurses have been responsible for some of the most significant technological advancements in medicine, including Abi Huskins, who developed a prototype for a medical device that assists patients in need of chronic transfusions, or Micah Skeens and Janet Van Cleave who created a personalized mobile experience for children to document their symptoms of cancer treatment. Today, as telemedicine systems are being implemented in medical facilities throughout the country, nurses are no doubt playing an influential role in the success of these programs as well.
Nurses have several telemedicine roles
Physicians, patients, and hospital leadership know that nurses are more than caregivers. They make important life-changing decisions, communicate with numerous departments, advocate for patients, and educate. As proponents of medical technology, their role, understanding, and participation in telemedicine is vital.
Whether for in-person primary care, follow-up, emergency, or end-of-life care, there are several stages of telemedicine implementation and methods that require nurses' attention. Some practices may consider having their nursing staff or a head nurse assist in selecting the technology from the start and developing the office's telemedicine protocols. Many times, nurses also act as coordinators, managing equipment and following guidelines.
But, the most significant factor will be that telemedicine will be incorporated into their daily routines with patients. While virtual providers must present a "webside" manner, in-person nurses must work with both on-screen physicians and face-to-face patients. Together, this balancing act supplies telemedicine providers with information and assists with exams while delivering care to the patient. The information the nurse conveys and the professionalism of the exam can have vastly different impacts on patient outcomes, helping determine treatment, medication, or transfers.
Benefits to nurses and practices
As nurses have led the way in using technology in patient care, most see the benefits of telemedicine, reporting that they believe it improves clinical access, offers better support, and enhances patient care. Providers and hospital management report that telemedicine leads to less overhead expenses, streamlines operations, improves communication, and increases patient satisfaction.
However, like the rest of the medical field, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the nursing industry is in the midst of a workforce shortage, with more than 100,000 registered nurse openings each
year. Telemedicine is helping to mitigate the outpouring of nurses leaving the profession. Through this technology, the distractions and disruptions that tend to occur during in-office visits are minimized. It increases meaningful patient interactions, relieving some of the pressure nurses face with crowded waiting rooms, frustrated patients, and a lack of specialists available.
Telemedicine challenges for nurses
Telemedicine, like all technology, comes with challenges. There must be internet connectivity between providers and patients, something that has been an ongoing issue for rural communities. There must be compliance with state and federal regulations, which coincide with telemedicine reimbursement. And nursing staff should have a level of digital literacy and be comfortable using the technology. This means that more education on the system may be required before, during, and after implementation. In some surveys, it is reported that even digitally savvy nurses have more confidence in telemedicine when they have had more training and support.
Until recently, training specifically for telemedicine was sparse. For example, the National League of Nursing prepared nursing students for technology, but the focus was on electronic health records and informatics, not telehealth. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing only spoke about technology in general terms with minimal reference to virtual health. However, when Covid-19 hit, telemedicine became the primary method of supplying care, and medical practitioners were forced to learn these technologies quickly while on the job.
Preparing nurses for telemedicine
Learning a new technology in the middle of a pandemic is less than ideal. As a result, some patients and nurses were not initially comfortable using telemedicine. Many nurses were tasked with program implementation, patient contact, insurance paperwork, and professional collaboration with doctors all at once. With little to no assistance from many telemedicine companies, nurses had little support in supporting telehealth efforts.
In response, the AAACN developed standards for telehealth nursing. Some colleges now offer advanced degrees, such as a Master of Science in Nursing, which can assist aspiring nurse leaders in understanding the significance of telehealth and other advances responsible for healthcare's future.
However, some of this responsibility should fall on the telemedicine provider. The right telemedicine partner delivers not only the clinical and technical aspects of the program, but also ongoing training and support. Implementation is equal parts installing technology as it is education, as every nurse on the team should be comfortable with their role within telemedicine. If you would like to learn more about how a comprehensive telemedicine partner can deliver ongoing training and 24-hour support with user-friendly technology, contact us today.
If you'd like a custom telemedicine solution for your hospital, get started with a consultation today!