In honor of National Nurses Week, we want to pause the telehealth conversation to focus on a key relationship and deployment partner who isn’t always spotlighted in the industry’s digitization: the frontline nurse who delivers care and improves the patient experience every day. In this vital role, the nurse is key to providing care in a tech age — where telehealth and nursing must work in tandem to achieve the best care outcomes.
Today, nurses are using telehealth technologies in home health care, counseling, physical and occupational therapy, chronic disease monitoring and management, and health education settings. As a result, nurses are educationally and professionally prepared to provide a broad scope of skills and services across the healthcare continuum.
Telehealth researcher Loretta Schlachta-Fairchild explains: “The nursing process and scope of practice does not differ with telenursing. Nurses engaged in telenursing practice continue to assess, plan, intervene, and evaluate the outcomes of nursing care, but they do so using technologies such as the internet, computers, telephones, digital assessment tools and telemonitoring equipment.”
In short, technology today allows telehealth nursing — or telenursing — to reach patients, monitor their conditions and interact with them using computers, audio and visual accessories and telephones. In addition, advances such as electronic health records (EHR), tone analysis to improve phone interactions and chatbots to streamline appointment scheduling have taken these abilities even further than before.
In emergencies, nurses from around the world can participate in telephone triage setups where they can monitor a patient’s oxygen levels, heart rate, respiration, blood glucose and more.
Examples where nursing via telehealth is particularly useful include:
- The aftermath of a natural disaster, where telehealth nursing may be the only option available for those with minor injuries, once telecommunications systems are up and running.
- Routine pre-surgical and post-surgical care that can be administered with telenursing help. Nurses can also help continue to develop the best practices for specific circumstances as they arise.
- Treating elderly or chronically ill patients who may otherwise have to frequent the hospital for minor check-ins.
- Patients located in rural areas, to either avoid lengthy drives into the hospital or to extend the reach of regional or global experts.
According to the Committee on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Initiative, the nursing workforce doubled from 1980 to 2011 — and a 2016 study confirmed there were 3.6 million registered nurses in the U.S. Of that number, 208,000 were nurse practitioners, who are board certified to deliver specialty services and primary care similar to that of a primary care physician (PCP).
What does that mean in 2019? Not only are nurses a vital part of any healthcare organization’s care program, but they’re a very large part of its footprint as well.
Whether through the scope of skills or reach of the nursing workforce, it’s clear that they’re a key partner in the future of care in a tech age and need to be a part of the conversation. After all, if the nurses within a healthcare organization aren’t trained on or able to regularly leverage the telehealth technology available, then it won’t ever serve the full purpose it can for the number of patient populations.