Mitigating staff shortages with ‘virtual sitter’ patient observation solutions

6 ways to help ensure virtual patient observation success – for your care teams and patients.

Patient observation conducted by “virtual” patient sitters is an innovative response to hospitals’ ongoing staff shortages, helping them to do more with less.

Conventional patient sitters provide in-room or curtain area support to patients at risk of falling, injury or self-harm. But providing a physical sitter to occupy each room can add up to hefty expenses. Virtual patient observation can be a cost-effective alternative that helps improve patient safety.

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In related posts, Caregility highlights the benefits of virtual patient observation and outlined the questions you should ask when you are shopping for a solution. Once invested in a system, you can establish best practices to ensure your hospital’s staff and patients have the best – and safest – virtual patient observation experience.

1. Implement rigorous procedures to protect patient privacy.

Caregility Senior Vice President Wendy Deibert offers the following recommendations:

  • Do not record or store virtual patient observation video.
  • Require a badge to be scanned before the camera in the patient’s room can be turned on.
  • Secure patient and/or caregiver consent via the standard hospital admission forms.

2. Provide approachable training opportunities for staff.

The introduction of any new technology can be daunting for hospital staff members, so give them an opportunity to practice and build their confidence with your virtual patient observer solution.

“A lot of times the clinical staff will think, ‘This is a big project that’s going to take up a lot of my time and bandwidth,’” Devin Johnson, national account manager for NOVA Health, told Intel’s “We’ve tried to make deployment and training as simple as possible so that the nursing staff is more inclined to embrace the change.”

3. Define which patients are eligible for virtual observation.

Virtual observation can be used for many patients, but not all.

Generally, patients with dementia or a history of falls are good candidates to be monitored virtually.

However, patients who cannot fully interact with the technology, including those with sight or hearing impairments, or those whose do not have the cognitive ability to follow directions, should be monitored in person instead.

4. Familiarize patients with virtual patient sitters before turning on the camera.

For many patients and their caregivers, the concept of being monitored 24/7 via video will be disconcerting. Whenever possible, provide an in-person orientation for the patient and their caregivers to:

  • Explain why a virtual sitter is being used;
  • Outline the privacy safeguards in place to protect the patient;
  • Introduce the different parts of the technology; and
  • Show them how to interact with the platform.

5. Keep the patient load manageable.

Although virtual patient observation technology makes it easy for one person to tend to multiple patients in theory, in practice, that number should be limited so the observer can devote appropriate attention to each patient.

The load for each virtual sitter varies depending on the capabilities of the hospital’s observation solution and its organizational policies, but usually falls between 10 and 15 patients per observer.

6. Provide clear direction on how – and when – staff should request physical intervention.

Because time is of the essence in an emergency, virtual patient sitters must know exactly when they should ask for help in a situation where patients do not respond to their instructions through the system. The escalation policy should name the colleague or supervisor they should enlist for physical assistance and identify the point at which they can recommend that a patient be removed from virtual observation.

Although virtual sitter solutions are powerful, they are just tools – so it is imperative to take care of the human beings at the control. Deibert notes: “Ergonomics, shift coverage and rotations, and easing monotony should all be factored into the implementation” of a virtual patient observation solution.

See the original post from, and visit the Caregility blog for related teleheath and remote patient monitoring content.

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