How virtual nursing can be the new horizon in healthcare

Leveraging technology can enable organizations to obtain transformational benefits to enable remote care, continuous monitoring and enhanced patient engagement.

In today's rapidly evolving healthcare landscape, technology is revolutionizing the way in which patient care is delivered. Among the most impactful advancements is the emergence of virtual nursing, which brings a new era of healthcare delivery, transcending geographic boundaries and enhancing patient outcomes.

As a chief nursing officer, I have witnessed the remarkable benefits that hybrid care models offer patients and care teams, particularly as health systems look for new solutions to the ongoing nursing shortage.

Virtual nursing harnesses the power of technology to deliver healthcare remotely. It empowers clinical staff to provide real-time guidance and support to patients across distances, leveraging video conferencing, monitoring devices and electronic health records. Through high-definition audiovisual streaming, real-time data monitoring and advanced analytics, virtual nurses support round-the-clock monitoring, early detection of deteriorating patient conditions and timely interventions, which can ultimately save patient lives.

Key benefits for healthcare

Here are five transformative benefits of virtual nursing.

Access to expertise. Virtual nursing empowers patients with virtual access to their care team during their inpatient stay. The availability of experienced remote nurses, armed with the latest evidence-based protocols and clinical guidelines, can reduce patient anxiety as well as help reassure novice bedside staff. Floor teams can tap into virtual nurse resources for guidance when needed or to get support fielding tasks that do not require hands-on care.

Continuous monitoring and observation. Using continuous virtual patient observation, virtual nurses can provide real-time visibility to vital signs, lab results and other critical patient insights. This proactive approach enables the early detection of potential complications, such as a fall from the bed or signs of sepsis or cardiac arrest, enabling for prompt intervention and improved patient outcomes. Technologies like natural language processing (NLP) and artificial intelligence are helping to amplify what virtual nurses can see, hear and do remotely. Take for example the use of Bluetooth stethoscopes – we can now listen to the sound of a lung or heart through Bluetooth-enabled devices.

Communication and collaboration. Enhanced staff collaboration is another benefit of virtual nursing. It fosters seamless communication among the interdisciplinary care team. Through video conferencing, nurses, physicians, respiratory therapists and other healthcare professionals can discuss patient cases, exchange information and make timely care decisions. This interdisciplinary approach promotes a culture of teamwork, enhances care coordination and optimizes resource utilization.

Reducing burnout. Virtual nursing also can reduce staffing pressures and burnout. It has been widely reported that there is a nursing shortage because of exhaustion. An April 2022 report analyzing the nursing workforce showed that RN rolls decreased by more than 100,000 from 2020 to 2021 – the largest drop observed over the past four decades. Virtual nursing provides valuable support by introducing a secondary line of clinical defense to patients, overburdened care teams and understaffed healthcare organizations. The worst thing the industry can do is steal nurses from the bedside and put them in virtual care. But by working collaboratively, the full care team – bedside and virtual – can provide guidance, answer questions, offer reassurance and provide support to clinical teams, all of which help promote job satisfaction.

Enhances family engagement. Meaningful patient and family engagement also can be facilitated through virtual nurses. Using the same telehealth resources that virtual nurses use to engage with patients at the bedside, remote RNs can bring a patient’s loved ones and at-home caregivers into care discussions. They’re then able to receive education about the patient’s conditions and actively participate in shared decision-making. This empowers patients and their families to be active partners in the care journey, leading to adherence to treatment plans and better long-term outcomes.

While the benefits of virtual nursing are undeniable, there is still immense untapped potential waiting to be realized. To fully leverage the power of this transformative approach, healthcare organizations must invest in infrastructure and technology; training and education; research and evaluation; and adhere to policies and regulations.

As virtual nursing continues to evolve, rigorous research and evaluation are vital to measure its impact, identify best practices and drive evidence-based care. To enable widespread adoption of virtual nursing, policymakers must establish clear guidelines and regulations that ensure patient privacy, reimbursement for virtual services, and interstate practice privileges.

Through expanded access to expertise, continuous monitoring, enhanced communication and improved patient engagement, virtual nursing has the potential to transform healthcare delivery and improve patient outcomes. Virtual nursing will continue to gain momentum and become an integrated part of the healthcare landscape.

By embracing the transformative power of technology, we can redefine the boundaries of care, break down barriers of access and ultimately improve the health and well-being of individuals and communities.

Wendy Deibert is chief nursing officer at Caregility.

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