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How Virtual Nursing Helps Address Nursing Shortages

The following guest blog features commentary from Marcia Murphy, VP of Clinical Operations and Nursing at Hicuity Health.

Concerns about clinician staffing and the future availability of highly trained physicians and nurses have been on the strategic dashboard of every attentive health system and healthcare leader for years.

Workforce shortages have been predicted repeatedly and consistently, as healthcare leaders modeled the anticipated impact of long-term trends such as increasing healthcare demands due to an aging patient population, the projected rate of clinician retirement, increasing turnover, and the slow rate at which new providers and nurses are being trained.

Recent Trends Fueling the Need for Virtual Nursing

In recent years, a range of potent forces added velocity to the growing shortage of nurses nationwide. The widely reported Great Resignation during the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing burnout and turnover issues have created increased urgency around the issue of nurse staffing.

According to the Medscape Nurse Career Satisfaction Report 2022, 52% of RN respondents reported that the pandemic decreased their career satisfaction. Roughly one-third of all nursing respondents indicated feeling either “burned out” or “very burned out”. The 2023 NSI National Health Care Retention & RN Staffing Report, based on data gathered from hospital executives during the first quarter of 2023, revealed that 75.4% of hospitals reported an RN vacancy rate above 10%.

As a result, hospitals have been forced to create both short-term and longer-term solutions to the trio of staffing issues: shortages, burnout, and turnover. Whereas authorization to simply hire more nurses might have addressed similar situations in the past, recruiting efforts have proven to be increasingly difficult as the national need for RNs has led to more competition for scarce clinical resources.

Many hospitals turned to travel nurses in an attempt to bolster their staffing, typically at a high cost and with mixed results. Some hospitals were compelled to increase nurse-patient ratios or to engage additional non-nursing support, when available, which nominally addressed staffing shortages but risked intensifying nursing burnout.

Virtual Nursing: A New Way Forward

Against this backdrop, virtual nursing services have emerged to offer hope to short-staffed hospitals and their beleaguered frontline nurses. Technology-enabled virtual nursing ensures that the work that needs to be done gets done, while bedside nurses maintain a priority focus on those nursing elements that can only be done in person and at the bedside.

The nursing tasks that can be effectively performed by a virtual nurse are numerous. Examples include admission and discharge documentation, patient and family education, medication reconciliation, patient monitoring, precepting, and many others. The goal is not simply to relocate the workload but to enable, hospitals to improve patient care, staff support, and clinical outcomes.

The impact of adding virtual nursing care is multi-dimensional.

  • Virtual nursing allows the bedside nursing team to focus on hands-on patient care. Studies have found resulting increases in patient satisfaction scores.
  • Virtual nursing provides real-time support for the bedside team, helping to reduce stress and burnout and improve clinician experience and retention.
  • Virtual nursing enables the hospital to add staff without finding candidates locally, relocating them, or relying on travel nurses, which can materially improve the hospital’s nursing costs. The NSI study found that the average hospital could save more than $3M annually for every 20 travel nurses eliminated.
  • Virtual nursing can also allow hospitals to lean on virtual services providers to take on the responsibility for hiring, retaining, and seamlessly augmenting staff.

By fielding services such as continuous patient observation, hourly rounding, admission history, and documentation of activities of daily living (ADL) via a virtual nursing program, health systems can immediately offset nursing shortages while also ensuring that bedside nurses feel well-supported and better able to focus on hands-on patient care.

The hybrid care model also lays the groundwork that will help health systems modernize care models and capitalize on digital health innovation in the years to come. With technology enablement in place, virtual nursing equips care teams to leverage seasoned, remote telemedicine nurses to anticipate staff and patient needs, customize care programs and related workflows, and continue to ensure the highest levels of patient care throughout the hospital.

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