Virtual Nursing in Inpatient Care: Lessons from Healthcare Leaders

In the early 2000s, telehealth made its inpatient debut with the introduction of teleICU units. These units aimed to assist clinical teams in providing high-quality care to high-acuity patients, driven by a shortage of critical care specialists and the goal of improving patient outcomes in intensive care settings.

Fast forward to today, where healthcare organizations across the nation are grappling with widespread nursing workforce shortages. This crisis has led many to explore how telehealth tools can replicate the success of teleICUs, this time in lower acuity units. Enter virtual nursing, a vital solution.

Virtual Nursing: From Vision to Reality

Forward-thinking hospitals are turning to virtual nursing to bolster their bedside staff, enhance patient coverage, and prioritize safety. Virtual nursing has gained considerable attention in recent years, with real-world examples of its impact starting to emerge.

To shed light on this emerging care model, Caregility hosted a panel discussion featuring four nurse leaders who successfully implemented virtual nursing programs. Here’s what they had to say.

Getting Started with Virtual Nursing

Kris Chaisson, Senior Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer at Central Maine Healthcare, explained how her team launched their first virtual nursing program. Their prior experience with inpatient telehealth, including a virtual patient safety assistant program, made the transition smoother. Wendy Deibert, Chief Nursing Officer at Caregility, emphasized that virtual nursing can be initiated on a small scale and gradually expanded, starting with simple tools like carts or iPads.

But where should organizations begin?

1. Engage Your Bedside Nurses: To identify the pain points and tasks that can be offloaded from bedside nurses, engage with them and conduct surveys. This helps determine the real challenges faced in daily care.

2. Build Your Business Case: Understand current clinical benchmarks, time constraints, and areas of weak performance. Develop a robust business proposal and secure support from the executive team to justify the financial investment needed upfront.

3. Collaborate for Change Management: Partner with key stakeholders across the organization, including patient experience, infection prevention, transport, and environmental services. Engage in effective change management to ensure a smooth transition.

4. Set Up for Technical Success: Choose enabling technologies that simplify the work for staff rather than complicating it. Ensure that the necessary tools are readily available and easily managed by the team.

As core workflows are established, consider scaling the program to cover new areas or tasks. The future holds great promise, with technology advancements like AI and natural language processing poised to enhance what virtual nurses can do, see, and hear from a distance.

The role of virtual nursing is set to expand and redefine the future of healthcare, creating a more connected, patient-centered approach to care delivery. To learn more about moving virtual nursing from concept to impact, watch the full virtual nursing panel discussion on-demand here