Telehealth News Roundup: The EASE Act, H@H Risk, and ViVE
Here is a glimpse into some of the latest headlines grabbing attention in the world of digital health and telehealth news:
The Equal Access to Specialty Care Everywhere Act
On January 30, 2024, the Equal Access to Specialty Care Everywhere (EASE) Act was introduced by a bipartisan group of US House representatives. The proposed legislation advocates for the creation of a virtual specialty network to expand access to specialist care for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, using Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) funds earmarked to “test models and innovations that support access to integrated specialty care across the patient journey,” as Anuja Vaidya reports.
Might this be a step towards a national framework for virtual care access that extends beyond state borders, similar to what’s seen in Veterans’ care?
Meanwhile, the clock is winding down on Acute Hospital Care at Home funding, slated to run out at the end of 2024. Designed to free up bed capacity by allowing select Medicare and Medicaid patients to recover at home, Hospital at Home is one of the few levers providers have to offset emergency department overcrowding. Concern about the future of the program is giving providers pause on implementing the solution. NBC reporter Erika Edwards notes that growing interest in the program may garner it a two-year extension or even permanency by the end of this year.
Last but not least, the 2024 ViVE conference is officially a wrap, with recaps from the conference pouring in. Telehealth was a recurring theme in HealthLeaders editor Eric Wicklund’s write-up of five key takeaways from healthcare’s flashiest tradeshow. What do nurses in need of help, the call for more care at home, and health AI enablement all have in common? You guessed it: virtual care.
Buzz around virtual nursing is building. As telehealth sheds its COVID skin, the virtual care technology is entering a new phase of growth helping health systems advance acute care models to mitigate hospital workforce challenges.
In a recent interview with Commercial Integrator editor-in-chief Dan Ferrisi, Caregility President and COO Mike Brandofino addressed the rise of inpatient virtual care and, more specifically, virtual nursing.
“We lost a lot of nurses during COVID who retired, can no longer work, or just decided they didn’t want to [do it] anymore and we don’t have enough nurses coming in so there’s a huge shortage,” said Brandofino. “Virtual care is being used now to augment that.”
Nursing shortages during the pandemic led to labor cost inflation as hospitals battled for scarce resources. Recent CNBC coverage revealed that the “average pay for travel nurses was $150 an hour in early 2022, which analysts say tempted more nurses to leave staff jobs, increasing turnover and exacerbating shortages.”
That pay rate is three times higher than the national average for full-time staff nurses.
Virtual nursing offers health systems an alternative to expensive contract nurses that not only acts as a force multiplier for care teams but also enhances care collaboration and improves patient and clinician experience.
How Virtual Nursing Can Help Solve Many Workforce Shortage Woes
Healthcare IT News
Virtual care pioneer and Caregility Chief Nursing Officer Wendy Deibert, EMBA, BSN, RN, recently sat down with Healthcare IT News editor Bill Siwicki to offer a deep dive into the benefits of a hybrid approach to nursing that employs telehealth.
Virtual nursing programs are typically campus-based and staffed internally but can also be supported by third-party clinical services or a combination of the two. Workflows vary from campus to campus.
“Some organizations use virtual nurses for patient admissions and assessments or discharge education,” shared Deibert. “Others implement more comprehensive 24/7 patient surveillance and deterioration management programs. The fact that there is no one universal approach is really the beauty of telenursing. Programs can and should be tailored depending on your health system’s specific needs.”
Deibert noted that multiple organizations are actively working with stakeholders within the nursing community to develop virtual nurse certification programs to help establish standards for programs.
Virtual Nursing Programs Adapting to Organizational Needs
Meanwhile, organizations like Mary Washington Healthcare are forging their own path as early adopters of virtual nursing.
HealthTech Magazine editor Teta Alim highlighted the health system’s journey into virtual nursing in coverage of the 2023 American Telemedicine Association conference. Debra Marinari, Associate Vice President of Hospital Operations at Mary Washington Healthcare’s Stafford Hospital, and Heidi Steiner, MD, Clinical Program Manager at Caregility, were on site to share insight into the nursing workflows the hospital is working to virtualize, including admission assessment, plan of care, patient education, and discharge, to name a few.
Mary Washington Healthcare deployed an Inpatient Virtual Engagement solution to support its new virtual nursing program. According to Marinari, the leadership team will assess nurse engagement, patient satisfaction, the rate of nurse turnover, quality and safety metrics, and readmissions to measure program success.
Experts Weigh in on the Joys and Woes of Virtual Nursing
The Atlanta-Journal Constitution
Given the elevated rates of nurse attrition during and since the pandemic, many care teams are onboarding new hires who have limited field experience. As Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer Hunter Boyce shared, another benefit of virtual nursing is its ability to connect new nurses with experienced remote nurse resources who can help guide and mentor them. That secondary line of clinical reinforcement boots confidence for care team members, improving clinician experience and increasing the likelihood of retention.
As Walsh University nicely sums it up:
“The impact of technology on nursing practice cannot be overstated. When nursing technology takes over time-consuming routine processes, streamlining communication and delivering accurate diagnoses and personalized treatment plans, NPs are freed up to do the work that only humans can: providing one-on-one, compassionate care.”