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Virtual patient sitters: how hospitals are protecting patients while keeping costs down

Today, hospitals and healthcare systems need to innovate in order to do more with less by providing exceptional patient care without overstretching their resources. One way that hospitals have improved patient care and reduced costs is through virtual patient observation, or virtual sitters.

But what is a patient sitter in the first place?

Patient sitters traditionally provided in-room support to patients at risk of falling, injury, self-harm, or other behavioral issues. But, providing a physical sitter in each room can amount to a hefty unbudgeted expense for healthcare organizations.

Thanks largely to recent advancements in telehealth, virtual patient observation has emerged as a cost-effective alternative to the use of live patient sitters. These camera-based e-sitters help hospitals overcome financial hurdles while improving patient safety. The real-time remote monitoring solutions enable clinical staff to simultaneously support higher numbers of at-risk patients via two-way video and audio feeds.

Virtual sitting can reduce hospital costs and improve patient safety. Here’s how.

Financial Benefits of Virtual Patient Observation

The use non-clinical staff to provide bedside patient monitoring — also known as “specialling” — is a common practice in hospitals. Patient sitters provide in-room support to patients at risk of injury while freeing up nurses to focus on clinical duties.

The drawback is that these services are not reimbursed. Even though non-clinical staff typically receive lower wages than clinical staff, the cost can add up quickly. One 900-bed hospital, for example, saw an annual unbudgeted expense of $3 million for patient sitters.

Virtual patient observation can be used in a variety of settings but is key to helping hospitals avoid costs from fall injuries. Every year hundreds of thousands of patients fall in hospitals, with one-third resulting in serious injury. The Joint Commission estimates that, on average, a fall with injury costs $14,000, but depending on the severity of the injury, unreimbursed costs for treating a single hospital-related fall injury can be up to $30,000.

How Virtual Patient Observation Protects Patients

Virtual observation technology can be used for physical observation of high-risk patients. This could include patients on telemetry, those who require frequent suctioning, or patients who frequently bounce back to the ICU. It can also be used to remotely monitor blood pressure or other equipment in the room.

But there are many other applications of virtual patient monitoring that can also add value to patient safety protocols, including:

Lower fall risk: If a patient who is a fall risk attempts to leave his or her bed, the virtual observer can address the patient over a speaker, advising him or her to stay in bed, and then can alert clinical staff to assist the patient.

Lower suicide risk: If the patient poses a risk to him- or herself, the virtual observer can act as a second set of eyes (often in addition to a physical sitter in the room) to keep that patient safe.

Reduced risky or dangerous behavior: Virtual patient observation can be a deterrent for negative or dangerous interactions with others. This can include dissuading visitors from brining a patient something that might put them at risk (e.g., outside medications or illicit drugs), or functioning as a second set of eyes if a patient has the potential to become aggressive or violent.

Continuous monitoring while waiting for care: As patients wait to be transferred — to a higher or lower level of care, from the ED to a critical care bed, or to an outside organization —virtual sitting can help provide continuous monitoring.

Faster care when physicians are not physically available: Virtual sitting can also be helpful when providers aren’t physically available. In this situation, a rapid response team with mobile carts can utilize camera capability for visual assessment.

NICU observation: Virtual sitting can also be beneficial for the littlest patients. A remote clinician can provide continuous monitoring of newborns and infants in the NICU through one central location.

Virtual patient monitoring has the capability to improve patient safety while enabling hospitals to more efficiently allocate resources —all without sacrificing the essential human-to-human element of patient care.

To find out more about how virtual sitting resources work, which patients are candidates, and what to look for in a solution, download our white paper, Considering Virtual Observation for Your Healthcare Organization.

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