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Six ways to ensure staff and patients have a better—and safer—virtual sitter experience

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

Traditional 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. With virtual patient observation, hospitals have a cost-effective alternative that helps them improve patient safety and reduce costs.

In previous posts, we have highlighted the many benefits of virtual patient observation and outlined the questions you should ask when you are shopping for a solution. Once you have invested in a system, here are some best practices that can ensure your hospital’s staff and patients have the best — and safest — virtual patient observation experience possible.

1. Implement rigorous procedures to protect patient privacy

Caregility Senior Vice President Wendy Deibert touched on this topic in an article for HealthCare IT Today. Among her recommendations, Deibert included the following:

  • 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, 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, said to Intel’s “” in July 2021. “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 what patients are — and are not — eligible for virtual observation

Virtual observation can be used in many patient cases, 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
  • 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 typical 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 who 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.

Take care of the humans behind the technology

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

Is your organization interested in adding a virtual observation platform? Find out more about your options by downloading our white paper, Considering Virtual Observation for Your Healthcare Organization.

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