Health systems can use inpatient virtual care to reduce administrative burdens on bedside nurses. Patients are providing encouraging feedback.
The worst of the COVID-19 pandemic may be over, but hospitals continue to face a persistent problem with staffing.
Hospitals are struggling with shortages of staff, especially with nursing. Some nurses left bedside roles during the pandemic, as evidenced by a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Nurses who have remained in hospitals are battling stress and burnout as they care for more patients with less help.
In such a challenging environment, many nurses are losing their passion, according to an August 2022 study by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses. Only 40% said they were satisfied being a registered nurse, compared to 62% in 2018. Two out of three nurses (67%) said they intend to leave their position within three years.
U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has recognized the growing crisis of burnout in healthcare. In a widely publicized advisory, Murthy urged healthcare leaders to address burnout by reducing burdens on their workforce, lifting some administrative tasks and showing workers they are valued.
Some hospitals are implementing virtual nursing units, using technology provided by Teladoc Health, the global leader in whole person virtual care. Nurses in these virtual units handle non-bedside care responsibilities like admission, discharge, and documentation, while also answering questions from patients.
Virtual nurse work in concert with bedside nurses, says Dr. Shayan Vyas, senior vice president and medical director of hospitals and health systems at Teladoc Health. With the virtual unit taking on some administrative tasks, the nurses on the floor can spend more time delivering hands-on care at the bedside. Patients also have shorter waits to see a nurse because they can reach out to their virtual nurse.
“We're not taking away physical care,” Vyas says. “We're not taking love and empathy away from patients. What we're doing is we're amplifying it, and we're allowing healthcare workers to work at the highest level of their license.”
Virtual nursing units are powered by state-of-the-art technology utilizing a familiar device: the television.
Patients can communicate with nurses in the virtual units directly through the televisions in their hospital rooms. Patients see and speak with their nurse on the television screen, ask nurses in the virtual unit about medications or get information about their care plan for when they leave the hospital.
And the nurses in the virtual units reduce the time-consuming demands of admission and discharge.
“There's a good 45 minutes of nurse documentation time that doesn't need physical interaction with the patient. And so, our health systems are using our solution to virtualize a lot of that care,” Vyas says.
Nurses in the virtual unit can document their patient encounters directly into the hospital’s electronic medical records.
Saint Luke’s Health System in Kansas City, Missouri has seen encouraging success in their early experience with the virtual unit. Susan Krug, chief nursing executive at Saint Luke’s Health System in Kansas City, Missouri, says the virtual unit has taken on admission and discharge education.
“This is a big transformation, but many are supportive, and it has been very successful,” Krug says.
Saint Luke’s virtual unit has led to improved patient satisfaction and eased some of the stress on bedside nurses, she says. “There is less administrative burden,” Krug says. “There are several new nurses that love it.”
Nurses in the virtual units provide value beyond reducing administrative hassles for the nurses by the bedside. Virtual nurses provide more eyes to assist patients and can potentially identify patients who may need help while a bedside nurse is checking on other patients.
A nurse in one virtual unit spoke with a patient and realized the patient was exhibiting signs of a possible stroke and flagged the nurses on the floor, Vyas says.
“She was able to virtually diagnose a critical illness,” Vyas says, and the patient received treatment much more quickly.
Virtual nursing units can be tailored for hospitals of all sizes, from large systems to smaller providers in more remote areas, Vyas says. Virtual nursing can aid rural health systems, which have limited staffing and resources.
Virtual nursing offers health systems advantages in recruiting and retaining nurses, Vyas says.
Virtual nursing units provide an appealing option for longtime nurses who want to offer their experience but are finding it more difficult to spend 12 hours on the floor. Instead of losing a wealth of experience, the virtual units provide an opportunity to keep nurses who still have a great deal to offer both patients and their peers.
Virtual nursing also aids hospitals in filling positions at the bedside, Vyas says. Nursing units supported by the virtual teams are becoming more attractive to nurses, because they know they have additional help, he says.
While hospitals are launching virtual nursing units with Teladoc Health’s solution, Vyas says health systems can use the technology for services beyond nursing, with functions like social work, nutrition, interpretive services and more.
Health systems could utilize Teladoc Health’s technology for physicians as well. Vyas says it can be especially valuable for hospitals to use the virtual system for specialists who can connect with patients and answer questions. Smaller hospitals and providers in rural areas can also gain more access to specialists with Teladoc Health’s solution.
“You can now bring in a specialist to the patient's bedside that the community may not have had access to previously,” says Vyas.
Health systems can also allow physicians to use Teladoc Health’s tools to check in on patients while they are at home, making it easier for physicians to address patient’s concerns without a return trip to the hospital or clinic.
Hospitals could take advantage of Teladoc Health’s technology for their chaplains, potentially offering more access and comfort to patients and families.
“This is really unlimited for the health system in terms of who can access it and how they want to do it,” Vyas says. “So, it's a game changer.”