Nurses are at the forefront of patient care and act as drivers of healthcare change, including using technology such as telehealth. As medical technology improves, the use of telehealth in nursing continues to soar, providing tools to enhance patient outcomes as well as improve access to quality healthcare.
There has been an increase in senior citizens over the past years. This has led to an enhanced need for health care services. This, coupled with the recent nursing shortages, have led to adapting new technology to ease the situation. Telehealth is one of the solutions as it ensures more people can receive timely nursing care.
What is telehealth?
Telehealth is the utilization of communication technologies to provide healthcare at a distance. Thanks to combined advances in communications, informatics, medical technologies, and computer science, it has become a valuable tool.
Typically, telehealth involves remote monitoring of heart rate, blood pressure, and other measurements obtained by a device worn by patients and sent electronically to medical personnel. Smart personal devices and smartphones are used for collecting, disseminating, and analyzing health status due to their enhanced global presence, even in remote communities.
The onset of COVID-19 led to increased use of telehealth. Although the services have been available in the US for decades, usage pre-covid 19 was relatively uncommon. Barriers such as jurisdiction regulations, insurance coverage, and technical challenges slowed down the uptake of the use of the technology.
During the pandemic, telemedicine emerged as a way of delivering socially-distanced care. In response, policymakers lifted most of the regulatory, financial, and technical barriers that hindered previous telemedicine expansion activities.
How does telehealth work?
Telehealth allows a provider to care for a patient without an in-person visit to the office. Many services are included in the general telehealth umbrella, but fundamentally it requires an internet, cellular, and Bluetooth connection.
Say, one needs to speak to a nurse online via video chat; they will require a digital device and internet connection. Depending on the nature of the visit, one might need a private space to connect with the healthcare provider. Furthermore, they must ensure the device has working video and sound capabilities.
In some instances, there is the use of remote patient monitoring devices. These devices allow providers to monitor, report and analyze acute patients’ chronic or acute conditions outside the clinical setting. They enable real-time understanding of the patient’s disease state, enabling the provider to make proactive clinical decisions.
Common types of telehealth in nursing
Nurses need to be equipped with the knowledge of utilizing current technology to improve healthcare. By taking an Online MSN FNP, nurses can gain the necessary skills to adopt technologies such as the ones discussed below:
- Live video conferencing
This common type of telehealth in nursing allows the nurse and the patient to interact in real time via a video chat. The video conferences are conducted on secure telehealth-specific platforms like video chat platforms such as Zoom or Skype.
Nurses can utilize live video conferencing to carry out prior consultations for chronic or acute care needs, follow-up procedures, or explain pre-op and post-op procedures to a patient.
- Store and forward technology
Store and forward telehealth collect clinical information and send it electronically to another site for evaluation. Typically, the information includes medical history, demographic data, laboratory reports, and files.
A nurse uses a computer or a smartphone to collect and send information. The data can be transmitted by electronic mail, uploaded to a secure website, or through a private network.
The technology is a convenient way for nurses to counsel patients about non-pressing issues without coordinating schedules. Moreover, it reduces waiting time since specialist reports are received within a few hours of the request.
- Remote patient monitoring
RPM involves using electronic devices and telecommunications software to monitor patients with needs or conditions without requiring them to travel to a physical location. As stated earlier, the technology is used for patients with chronic conditions. It allows nurses to check the patient’s vital signs, including heart rate, blood sugar, etc.
There are many remote patient monitoring devices available on the market today. Here are some of the common ones:
- Blood pressure cuff: They calculate a patient’s heart rate and blood flow by measuring changes in artery motion. These Bluetooth blood pressure cuffs are akin to the ones in hospitals but send data in real time to clinicians for review.
- Glucometer: This device tests the patient’s blood sugar through a small blood drop placed on a test strip connected to the device. The patient puts a tiny blood drop on the test strip, which the meter reads to generate the blood glucose reading. The reading is then transmitted to the provider in real time for review.
The glucometer is often used by patients with type 1 and 2 diabetes. They use it daily to help the provider understand how some factors affect the patient’s diabetic symptoms and blood sugar.
- Pulse oximeter: This is a non-invasive clip, sometimes attached to a patient’s finger or earlobe. It is used to measure light wavelengths that determine how much oxygen is circulating in the red blood cells of a patient. It also reads the pulse of the patient.
- ECG + Stethoscope: An ECG captures the lung sounds and heart function. It is often used for patients with cardiac conditions such as coronary artery disease or arrhythmias. The stethoscope amplifies the body’s internal sounds, allowing the provider to capture lung, heart, and bowel sounds.
- Activity trackers: Wearables or activity trackers allow providers to track their patient’s heart rate, steps, sleep, and fall risk. They give the provider a window into a patient’s daily routine, assisting them in understanding how these activities affect the health and symptoms of patients.
Interactive patient engagement systems
Telecommunication technology can be utilized in person to streamline routine responsibilities and improve education and communication between patients and nurses. In-patient facilities and hospitals are utilizing patient engagement systems that incorporate TVs, tablets, videos, and other technology to help and educate caregivers and patients and give a convenient way for patients to get assistance with non-clinical wants during their stay.
How does telehealth nursing change the way nurses care for patients?
Telehealth is vital in many ways for both nurses and patients. It affects how nurses care for the patients and the quality of services the patients receive. These are some of the ways telehealth is impacting nursing:
- Balanced nurse workloads
Nurses often juggle many clinical, caregiving, and administrative tasks. The country is expected to experience a further shortage of nurses in the next decade as many nurses reach retirement age. Coupled with the increased number of senior citizens, nurses might have a heavier workload. Therefore, nurses must be empowered to use their time, resources, and energy wisely to ensure patients get the highest care level while avoiding stress and burnout.
Telehealth provides nurses with the right tools to balance their workload. Nurses can save time and energy and work more efficiently. For instance, telehealth can facilitate more interactive and effective methods for educating patients on healthcare.
- Enhanced access to care
Most people live more than 30 minutes away from a hospital. This complicates matters when it comes to healthcare provision. Patients with no transportation or limited resources may put off or skip medical appointments. A telehealth visit eliminates this issue that might keep patients from seeking healthcare.
People in rural areas lack access to care that prevents hospitalization or disease progression. With telehealth, patients can access the best specialists despite their location.
- Lower costs
Telehealth enhances efficiency, saving healthcare facilities money they spend on staffing, training, and technology. For instance, telehealth lowers the number of appointment no-shows, eliminating scheduling problems and the cost that comes with them.
- Improves peace of mind
Telehealth allows the remote monitoring of patients. This means that nurses can track important patient health information outside clinical settings. With telemonitoring, nurses keep tabs on patients released recently from the facility or those at high risk of heart attack or stroke. This increases peace of mind for everyone.
The ongoing patient data collection enables providers and patients to respond to issues quickly. It can also allow patients to recover at home, freeing up beds for those with acute illnesses.
- Better management of chronic conditions and aftercare
Telehealth makes it easier for checkups and monitoring after patients have been released from the hospital. Through biosensor devices and wearables, nurses can monitor a patient’s vitals to ensure that their recovery is progressing according to plan. If patients have inquiries, they contact the nurse without needing to return to the hospital in person.
The future role of telehealth in nursing
The role of telehealth in nursing is evolving. While the benefits are many, there are still challenges to implementing telemedicine effectively.
Lack of access to broadband internet can limit telehealth services in rural areas where other healthcare is often required. Also, telehealth is affected by limits of licensure to provide services across state lines, patient recovery concerns, and online prescribing regulations. Some of these areas have seen significant improvement, and it seems the future of medicine will tilt toward telehealth.