Virtual nursing is not new, but its potential for transforming the delivery of healthcare is just beginning. To learn more about today’s most impactful applications, we spoke with Jon Hunt, Director, Client Services at Pixel Health, who shared his insights on the current state of virtual nursing and how it will continue to grow.
The acceleration of telemedicine and telehealth practices
Since a Lancet article published in 1879 first mentioned using the telephone to reduce unnecessary office visits,[i] home- and community-based care has continued to find ways to leverage technologies that benefit both patients and healthcare providers.
“Virtual nursing has been in place for a while and there’s a lot of technology to support it, but the COVID-19 pandemic really accelerated our digital world,” said Jon. “Saint Luke’s Health System recently opened an inpatient virtual nursing unit, and many other healthcare organizations are just starting to recognize the potential of virtual nursing and evaluating how it can add value to their clinics.”
1. Addressing the high turnover rates in healthcare with virtual nursing
The so-called “Great Resignation” affected many U.S. job sectors. Healthcare was particularly burdened as the turnover rate of registered nurses increased 8.4% to reach 27.1%, according to a survey published by NSI Nursing Solutions, Inc.[ii] To exacerbate the issue, the ongoing need for registered nurses is forecasted to increase by 9% (through 2030).
“Large healthcare systems may be facing 10-20% vacancies within their institutions, and they’re often forced to fill these positions with these expensive travel nurses,” explained Jon. “I believe virtual nurses could help address these gaps, ease the burden for bedside RNs and even reduce the need for hiring as many travel nurses.”
2. Partnering with virtual nurses to support common tasks—and deliver continuing education
As someone who started his career as a respiratory therapist, Jon understands the need to support healthcare providers. He cited several areas where virtual nurses can work closely with bedside nurses and even share valuable clinical experience.
“Virtual nurses can be integrated into care in a variety of activities, such as performing pre-admission assessments, initial assessments, ongoing monitoring and discharge planning. Not only can virtual nurses free up time for the bedside nurses and improve the patient experience, but they can also support continuing education. For example, bedside nurses with less than five years of experience could quickly get up to speed by working with virtual nurses as mentors who can observe their interactions with patients,” he said.
3. Implementing virtual nursing to increase healthcare access in underserved communities
In many rural and even urban communities, access to healthcare may be limited. Jon shared his experience researching a virtual care pilot for a distributed academic healthcare network.
“We developed an early-stage model for virtual care, partnering with community agencies, clinical partners and pharmacies,” he said. “We explored a comprehensive design for a ‘pod’ concept that would allow people living in rural areas to access virtual care through a dedicated space in their local pharmacy.”
Combining people, process, technology and information
Jon stressed that development of virtual nursing and telehealth solutions involves more than connecting technologies.
“When setting up virtual nursing solutions, we look at people, process, technology and information and determine how to integrate those elements into a model of care,” he explained. “Even though the technology exists to connect people and systems, we must have robust workflows that support each touchpoint and enable a seamless experience, from patients to providers and their supporting systems.”
We invite you to follow Pixel Health as we continue to explore more in-depth solutions for designing, implementing and monitoring performance of virtual nursing in healthcare practices.
[i] Board on Health Care Services; Institute of Medicine. The Role of Telehealth in an Evolving Health Care Environment: Workshop Summary. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2012 Nov 20. 3, The Evolution of Telehealth: Where Have We Been and Where Are We Going? Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK207141/
[ii] 2022 NSI National Health Care Retention & RN Staffing Report. NSI Nursing Solutions Inc. Accessed 23 Feb. 2023. https://www.nsinursingsolutions.com/Documents/Library/NSI_National_Health_Care_Retention_Report.pdf