A nurse talks to a patient during a telehealth appointment.
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Telehealth Nursing and the Role of Nurse Leaders


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Telehealth Nursing and the Role of Nurse Leaders                                                

Technology is integral to modern health care delivery. The adoption of various technological advancements, from electronic health records (EHRs) to surgical robotics and artificial intelligence, revolutionizes the field. These innovations have improved the quality and efficiency of care and yielded numerous benefits for patients and providers alike.

In many cases, nurses led the way using technology in patient care. The U.S. News & World Report points out that nurses will play an even more prominent role in the provision of primary care as the United States continues to face a physician shortage. The use of telehealth nursing — sometimes referred to as telemedicine — is especially significant with its potential to improve access to care, reduce costs, and create opportunities for more comprehensive health care delivery.

Nurse leaders, in particular, have an important role to play by guiding health care organizations in the implementation and management of telehealth nursing. An advanced degree, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), can help aspiring nurse leaders understand the importance of telehealth and other technological advances that are driving the future of health care.

What Is Telehealth Nursing, and Why Is it Important?

Telehealth nursing involves the use of digital information and communication technology, such as computers or smart devices, by nurses to remotely provide health care services. Using this technology, patients can:

  • Speak with their provider over the phone or via video.
  • Send and receive messages to and from their provider.
  • Have a nurse or doctor check their vitals through a remote monitoring device.

With telehealth technology, nurses can remotely monitor many aspects of a patient’s health, such as oxygen levels, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, and more. They can guide patients through relatively simple self-care methods (such as how to dress a wound or treat a minor burn), and offer a range of other services, including medication management and online counseling.

Benefits of Telehealth Nursing          

Telehealth holds many benefits for both patients and health care providers. For patients, the benefits include:
 

  • Improved access: Telehealth overcomes geographic impediments to care, making it easier for older patients, people with disabilities, and those who live in rural or remote areas to access care.
  • Lower costs: Patients who take advantage of telemedicine visit the emergency room less and typically spend less time in the hospital, both of which can be very costly. Telehealth also means patients do not have to travel as frequently for health care, which can reduce secondary expenses such as child care or gas.
  • Convenience: By allowing patients to access care from home, telehealth can shorten wait times.
  • Reduced exposure to infection: Visiting a hospital or physician’s office can expose immunocompromised patients to an increased risk for sickness potentially transmitted within the office. Telehealth eliminates this risk, which is  of particular concern during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For providers, the benefits of telehealth nursing include:

  • Reduced overhead expenses: Offering telehealth services may lead to fewer overhead expenses, such as front desk staff or office space.
  • Streamlined operations: Telehealth can improve communication and coordination between members of a health care team — whether it is within the same organization or between different organizations.
  • Patient satisfaction: Patients who do not have to travel or wait for care may end be more satisfied with their provider.

Nursing Shortage             

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the nursing industry will experience a workforce shortage this decade, with more than 100,000 registered nurse openings each year beginning in 2022. An increased need for geriatric care due to the country’s aging population and a wave of nursing retirements are major factors in this shortage.

Telehealth nursing can help mitigate this shortage by directly expanding the ability of nurses to see and treat patients. Telemedicine minimizes the distractions and disruptions that accompany traditional office visits and reduces the amount of time nurses spend traveling from patient to patient. With telehealth, nurses can spend more meaningful time with patients, alleviating some of the stress and limitations to patient care that come with having too few nurses.

How Nurses Use Telehealth

Nurses can use telehealth to provide care in a number of ways. They can meet with patients virtually to discuss treatment, pre- or post-surgical care, or offer certain types of therapy, such as speech or physical therapy. They also can write or renew prescriptions.Telehealth is particularly suited for preventive and palliative care. A variety of technologies enable nurses and other health care professionals to remotely monitor patients’ health. These include:

  • Mobile applications for uploading information, like blood sugar levels for diabetic patients.
  • Wearable devices that record and transmit health information about a patient, such as their heart rate, blood glucose, and sleep patterns.
  • Home monitoring devices for older patients or those with dementia that can detect unusual activity, such as falls.

Remote monitoring allows nurses to continuously track a patient’s symptoms and overall health, and initiate interventions, when necessary. This care approach is especially beneficial for patients with chronic illnessNurses also can use telehealth to work with patients in crafting preventive care strategies. They can provide patients with suggestions for improving diet, exercise, or managing tress. Telemedicine also makes it possible to send patients text messages, reminding them to do rehabilitation exercises or take medications. These reminders can even be automated for maximum efficiency.

The Role of Nurse Leaders in Telehealth

Nurse leaders play a critical role in the successful implementation and practice of telehealth nursing. They may help develop protocols for its use and assist in acquiring or establishing equipment. They also are responsible for motivating nursing staff to embrace telehealth by emphasizing its benefits for both nurses and their patients.Nursing staff must receive training on telehealth technology, from a technical and clinical perspective. They must become comfortable using the technology and  understand  telehealth etiquette to provide a positive patient experience in a virtual setting.

According to a report in the Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, many health care organizations adopted telehealth technology during the COVID-19 pandemic, but failed to provide nursing staff with adequate training. As a result, both patients and nurses were not fully comfortable with the technology, which left some patients unsatisfied.

Nurse leaders are responsible for ensuring that nursing staff are properly telehealth trained by using a mix of instruction methods and patient simulations. Proper training will help ensure nurses understand how to use telehealth technology, and  effectively provide care via telemedicine.

Various issues may arise during telehealth implementation, which nurse leaders should be mindful of. These include:

Connectivity          

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), nearly 20 million Americans lack access to broadband internet, which can potentially hamper efforts to implement telehealth technology in certain communities. Others choose not to subscribe to broadband services for various reasons, even when it is available. Care providers can attempt to resolve these issues by engaging with patients, underscoring the benefits of telehealth, and guiding them toward resources designed to bring broadband service to communities that do not have it.

Compliance             

Telehealth technology must comply with the latest state and federal regulations, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Some health care organizations may struggle to navigate these regulations, potentially leading to noncompliance.

However, reimbursement for telehealth services is tied to compliance, so it is critical that nursing staff understand and observe these regulations. Currently, telehealth is reimbursed at the same rate as in-person care in 29 states and Washington, D.C., according to Teladoc Health. Nurse leaders should closely monitor these trends so they know what rates apply to their organization.  

Digital Literacy               

Digital literacy is the ability to use digital devices, such as smartphones and tablets. Effective telehealth nursing depends on both patients and providers understanding how to use this technology. Some patients, such as the elderly, may struggle with it.

Nurse leaders and their staff can engage with patients with the technology, educating them on its benefits, and instructing them on its use They also can help patients take steps to modify the technology to make it more user-friendly, such as increasing the size of text on the screen or using audio translations for those with vision problems.

Leading the Future of Telehealth Nursing

Telehealth nursing services can help resolve many issues in health care, improving access for underserved communities and reducing costs for patients and their providers. Nurse leaders will be called on to help guide organizations in adopting telehealth technologies and leading their staff in maximizing its many benefits.

Norwich University’s online Master of Science in Nursing program — and its Healthcare Systems Leadership and Nursing Education concentrations — can provide students with the tools to excel in the exciting, ever-advancing landscape of nurse patient care. The program’s curriculum explores emerging technologies, and helps students develop essential leadership skills.

Learn more about the program, and how it can help you become a nurse leader.

Recommended Readings

The Nurse’s Role in Preparing Patients for Flu Season During a Pandemic
Effects of the Continuing U.S. Nursing Shortage
Nurse Leadership Qualities for Your Future Career

 

Sources:

Can Nurse Practitioners Help Ease the Growing Physician Shortage?, U.S. News and World Report
Telemedicine Benefits: For Patients and Professionals, MedicalNewsToday
What is Telehealth?, Telehealth.HHS.Gov
How Telehealth Can Ease the Nationwide Nursing Shortage, InTouch Health
Telehealth: Technology Meets Health Care, Mayo Clinic
Workforce, American Nurses Association
Nurses’ Role in Implementing and Sustaining Acute Telemedicine: A Mixed-Methods, Pre-Post Design Using an Extended Technology Acceptance Model, Journal of Nursing Scholarship
Preparing Nurses for Roles in Telehealth: Now is the Time!, The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing
5 Challenges and Solutions for Improving Telehealth Adoption Rates, InTouch Health
Trends in the Use of Telehealth During the Emergence of the COVID-19 Pandemic, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Health Care Consumerization, American Telemedicine Association