There’s been a lot of talk about the potential of virtual nursing as of late. Using the latest technology, nurses would be able to remotely consult with patients at the bedside. Some healthcare leaders believe virtual nursing will help relieve the staffing shortage by reducing the physical challenges that come with providing care, which could help older nurses stay in the field longer than they would if they were still seeing patients in person.
Multiple health systems across the country have been implementing virtual nursing units. Trinity Health announced it will introduce virtual nursing at its hospitals in Michigan and Ardent Health Services plans to do the same in New Mexico.
But not everyone agrees on the merits of this approach. Some argue that virtual nursing would remove the human element of healthcare, which would ultimately reduce patient satisfaction and worsen health outcomes.
Several prominent chief nursing officers (CNOs) recently shared their thoughts on virtual nursing. Some have high expectations for this technology, while others fear a change for the worst.
Vi-Anne Antrum, CNO for Cone Health in Greensboro, North Carolina, offered her support for virtual nursing. “I believe that our future will continue to incorporate virtual nurses as a way to transfer knowledge from more seasoned nurses to our newer nursing workforce. It also provides an additional layer of support to decrease the burden our nurses experience on a day-to-day basis related to burnout. Leveraging and embracing this possibility can extend the career life of our most experienced nurses during a time of continued shortages while creating efficiencies in caring for patients in our hospitals.”
She predicts that it will soon become the preferred model of care for companies looking to boost their profits. “Imagine if the same virtual nurse who cared for you in the hospital performed a virtual visit after discharge or was your hospital to home nurse and connected with your primary care provider for a warm handoff. This future helps us add tremendous value to those we serve. It moves nurses into the space of holistic care coordination,” Antrum added.
Diane Aroh, CNO for Virginia Mason Franciscan Health in Seattle, WA, said her facility is already using virtual nursing as a way to encourage older nurses to put off retirement.
“As nurses prepare to retire or seek more flexible scheduling options, we are implementing new opportunities for them to continue caring for patients without always needing to be physically present,” Aroh explained. “Within our own health system, we are already seeing tremendous success with our virtual nursing program. Having a virtual nurse as a consistent member of the care team is another lever that we are pulling to provide additional support. As the healthcare industry continues to grapple with ongoing staffing challenges and high patient volumes, it is crucial that we continue innovating and leveraging technology to retain our workforce while maintaining high-quality and safe care for patients.”
Scott Jessie, CNO of SUNY Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse, NY, said virtual nursing has become essential because the number of nurses in the field will never return to pre-pandemic levels, which means making the most of limited resources.
“This technology can allow us to expand our workforce, bring experience to the bedside on demand, and support new staff when and where they need it,” he said. “It can also reduce the workload at the bedside by having remote nurses do admissions, discharges, and answer questions virtually. We have had great success with virtual safety companions and are currently looking at options to add virtual nursing to our workforce now.”
But Steve Polega, CNO of University of Michigan Health-West in Wyoming, believes digitizing the nurse-patient relationship isn’t the answer.
As a nurse of 25 years, I believe that nursing is a calling and a gift. It is a huge responsibility to be trusted by our patients and families to be the eyes, ears and caring hands at the bedside. Nursing is all about connecting with people. To earn that trust, I believe that you need to be at the bedside,” he explained.
“Nursing is about that kind touch, that smile, those reassuring things that we can do for patients and families. It is very challenging to have that real human connection through virtual care. I think we all lose if this trend continues. We have to optimize our technologies to make our nurses more efficient and effective, but at the end of the day, nurses put the humanity into care and need to be present and at the bedside.”