Nurses are sick and tired of being sick and tired. High workloads, staff shortages, and severe burnout are only getting worse for millions of providers across the U.S. But Providence Health & Services believes it might have the solution.
Virtual nursing has been gaining momentum in the industry as a way of redistributing the nurse workload while increasing the number of providers. The technology aims to help nurses deliver direct bedside patient care with fewer distractions. It can also ease the physical burden of the job to encourage more providers to return to the profession.
The engineers started out by identifying which tasks pull nurses away from the bedside, such as getting equipment or making notes, to eliminate these potential distractions when they are interfacing with a patient. The rooms have been fitted with audio visual equipment that lets the nurse interact with the patient in real-time via the TV.
“Bidirectional audio and video technology was installed and configured for each of the patient rooms and interfaced with the electronic health record to enable the nurse to seamlessly video conference with the patient,” said Sylvain Trepanier, RN, chief nursing officer at health system Providence.
“The team developed specific roles and responsibilities for the bedside nurse, virtual nurse, and ancillary staff,” he continued. “Communication tools such as secure chat and wearable two-way communication devices were also leveraged to enhance live correspondence between the virtual and bedside team.”
Older nurses and those with physical limitations can also use this technology to administer care without putting additional stress on their bodies. A record number of nurses have retired since the COVID-19 pandemic and this approach could bring them back into the fold.
“The flexibility and various practice areas and models of care may appeal to nurses considering leaving the profession and who may not be able to work in a traditional setting,” said Trepanier. “Virtual nurses will become a new area of professional practice. The hope is that this will keep nurses in the profession, enhancing their careers and improving retention.”
The virtual nurses have access to the bedside team’s contact information, so the two groups can coordinate care. The virtual provider will also shadow the bedside nurse as part of the onboarding process. Trepanier said the results speak for themselves.
“The immediate results have been incredibly promising,” he noted. “Within the first week, the virtual and bedside nursing teams collaborated on new use cases for the model. The virtual nurses have also proven to be incredible advocates for their patients, creating an improved care experience. We have had overwhelmingly positive patient feedback.”
The system is also providing valuable feedback on the hospital’s operations.
“The pilot is also providing perspective and data to help us answer additional questions,” he continued. “We are using the data from this program to gauge if virtual nursing helps reduce average length of stay. Additionally, we are tracking how these changes in skill mix may impact caregiver experience, patient experience, the cost of care delivery, and other nursing sensitive quality indicators.”
Trepanier and his colleagues said other hospitals and health systems should consider adopting this technology to improve retention rates and the nurse/patient experience.
“The primary nursing model is no longer sustainable with the continued healthcare staffing challenges and the aging of population,” said Trepanier. “We have to do something to address the nursing shortage and we are choosing to do that by innovating and redesigning how we deliver care.”