Moving Virtual Nursing from Concept to Practical Application
Virtual nursing is moving from concept to real-world implementation as health systems look for new solutions to address workforce challenges and better support patient care.
Some 36 percent of hospitals reported a nurse vacancy rate of 10 percent or more in 2022. Healthcare organizations across the U.S. are grappling with inflated labor costs, increased staff burnout, and potential risks to patient care as a result of the nurse staffing gap.
Together, these issues build a compelling case for adopting virtual nursing. Made possible by the rapid evolution of inpatient telehealth over the past few years, this hybrid care model brings virtual engagement and workflows to bedside care to improve patient safety and buy back time for floor nurses.
Virtual nurses can support many tasks that don’t require hands-on patient care, including virtual admissions and discharges, remote documentation, telerounding, blood and medication verification, virtual observation, patient education, and on-demand coaching and support.
Virtual Nursing’s Impact on Patients, Clinicians, and Health Systems
Virtual clinical workflows can have a tremendous positive impact on patient and clinician experiences.
Patients benefit from improved nurse-to-patient ratios, faster clinical intervention, and a second layer of care team support.
Virtual roles extend the careers of seasoned nurses who might otherwise leave or retire. New nurses gain access to virtual nurse mentors during onboarding and when they need help. And floor nurses can enjoy more focused work with fewer interruptions.
Operationally, virtual nursing can improve efficiency and patient satisfaction. It also offers health systems a more permanent solution for workforce reinforcement, reducing reliance on travel nurses by introducing new recruitment and retention tactics. Telenursing also lays some groundwork for next-generation hospital rooms and home-based acute care models.
Technical Considerations When Implementing Virtual Nursing
Given how new the model is, the challenge for most healthcare teams is knowing where to get started with virtual nursing. A cornerstone of all telenursing programs is the availability of synchronous audio and video at each patient’s bedside, using either mounted or mobile telehealth endpoints.
Subscription-based, pay-as-you-go service models can help reduce upfront installation costs. To maximize resources and manage solution sprawl, look to centralize siloed telehealth programs onto platform solutions that are integrated with the electronic health record (EHR) system and flexible enough to work with innovative digital health devices entering the market.
As you formulate a program strategy, identify clinical and technical needs first. Conduct a network assessment to make sure infrastructure is optimized to support concurrent virtual sessions. Are there coverage gaps in Wi-Fi that need to be addressed before implementation? Be mindful of standard security protocols that can disrupt virtual care.
Once you know which clinical processes you’ll be transitioning to a hybrid model, consider the telehealth capabilities you’ll need to support your workflows. Do you need advanced zoom functionality to read medications and IV bags remotely? Will virtual nurses need night vision to access dimly lit patient rooms? Is there a bedside button nurses and patients can use to bring in the virtual nurse?
Beyond the EHR, identify which peripherals will apply to your use cases. As programs evolve to include more advanced workflows, you may consider adding remote physical assessment devices, such as digital stethoscopes.
Clinical decision support integration can allow virtual nurses to bring patient stratification into telenursing workflows. Translation services should also be part of your virtual engagement strategy to meet language access requirements and ensure that health equity is baked into your program.
Driving Care Model Innovation with Virtual Nursing
Telehealth and virtual care solutions are redefining care, and the healthcare industry is just scratching the surface of what’s possible with virtual nursing. By taking a strategic approach to implementation, health systems can build telenursing programs that support patient and clinician well-being and add a secondary line of defense to patient care.
About the Author:
Wendy Deibert is Chief Nursing Officer atCaregility. She has 34 years of experience as a bedside critical care nurse and telehealth consultant, launching hundreds of virtual care programs nationwide. This article originally appeared in HealthTech Magazine.