By Andrea Clement, for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Telehealth and telemedicine experienced a significant boost in popularity and use throughout the coronavirus pandemic, and that includes the practice of virtual nursing. Is virtual nursing a good option for your career? How do virtual nursing opportunities compare to other types of onsite, in-person, or in-home bedside nursing careers?

“Virtual nursing in an innovative approach to treating patients remotely,” said Tamarica Moultrie, RN, BSN, Nurse Navigator at Pager, a virtual care platform. “Virtual nursing is being utilized in health care to provide safe, cost-effective nursing care, advice and triage via phone, chat or video.”

Especially during the pandemic and lockdowns, virtual nursing has been integral in providing health care to patients reluctant to venture out of their homes.

“Every day, people miss out on routine medical care due to a variety of reasons, from lack of time, or fear of costs, to worries about Covid-19 exposure,” Moultrie explained. “Virtual nursing allows nurses to touch more lives and reach more people, although it does sometimes present challenges without the face-to-face interaction nurses are accustomed to.”

“Like telemedicine, telenursing is a branch of telehealth. As nurses, we can provide home care recommendations and act as bridges between the patient and the telemedicine provider,” Moultrie explained. “Because telehealth is now much easier to access than ever before, virtual nursing can fulfill an important role in triaging and preparing the patient and the doctor for the visit.”

Gail Trauco, RN, BSN-OCN, agrees that the virtual nursing boom is a positive and promising trend for all aspects of the health care industry and the patients it serves, as well as for health care professionals. She said believes the uses for virtual nursing are essentially limitless.

“Virtual nursing and remote nursing providers have rapidly evolved as (a result) of the pandemic. Nurses were forced to work from home to minimize office staff, and patients were encouraged to use telemedicine,” stated Trauco, CEO of the PharmaKon LLC.

“Benefits of virtual and remote nursing (include) increased patient engagement, compliance and retention … ,” she explained, adding that the clinical research industry has embraced virtual nursing. “Patients do not need to leave their home or miss simple study visits such as lab draws or IV infusions. Medications are prepared and delivered via courier to a patient’s home. A remote nurse oversees medication administration. Patient data is collected in real time and entered in Electronic Data Capture systems.”

She added that virtual nursing is helping to revolutionize the conduct of clinical trials via decentralized clinical trials, which are studies that are “executed though telemedicine and mobile/local health care providers, using processes and technologies” different from those used in a traditional clinical trial model.

“We focus on virtual primary care, mental health care and physical therapy” as some of the foremost uses for virtual nursing, said Amanda Carlile, nurse practitioner at Eden Health. “Nurse practitioners like myself administer primary care visits virtually, as well as answer messages from patients in our app.”

Some of the types of virtual visits she completes include:

  • Urgent care visits such as UTIs, sinusitis, cold symptoms, rashes, eye infections, back pain, dizziness and headaches
  • Behavioral health issues, including anxiety, depression and sleep issues
  • Primary care visits, such as annual wellness visits that address cholesterol and blood sugar levels or blood pressure
  • Medication refills, STI testing, birth control initiation
  • Providing referrals for a specialist for innumerable issues and conditions

Carlile said that although the pandemic increased their rate of virtual visits, her company was practicing virtual care for several years prior to Covid-19. “Virtual visits quickly became the initial touchpoint for many primary and mental health care consultations,” and Eden Health’s consumer adoption rate of virtual care grew to 46%, up from 11% prior to the pandemic.

Virtual nursing as a career

Some roles in virtual nursing are remote or virtual full time, while others are “hybrid” roles involving a mix of virtual and bedside care.

Carlile’s nursing role is 100% virtual, and she provided the following insight for those interested in pursuing a career in virtual nursing.

What if someone wants to become a virtual nurse or practice virtual nursing?

Carlile: “Virtual nursing provides yet another way to practice patient care. However, I strongly advise that any nurse providing care virtually have years of hands-on training and in-person experience first. In a virtual setting, you only can rely upon the patient’s (description of) their ailment, as opposed to putting a stethoscope to their chest and listening to their lung and heart sounds. A physical learning environment is critical for gaining the knowledge and experience necessary for being able to explain to a patient how to palpate their stomach, for example.

“For someone who is looking to practice virtual nursing, there are many compelling reasons to interact with patients this way. It provides me the ability to connect with more patients and helps promote more individuals to seek care more often. It may seem counterintuitive, but virtual nursing has also helped deepen my patient relationships since telehealth enables more one-on-one time that is uninterrupted by time or location. That ability to connect more with patients has made me a better clinician.”

Are there any special certifications, skills or training needed?

Carlile: “With the pandemic, most state nursing boards or local nurse practitioner chapters offer CME credits on telemedicine to help introduce the topic, as this service is very new to many clinicians. There are no requirements that I am aware of at this time. I would recommend checking with your national certification board for resources, CME courses, and webinars to gain more knowledge regarding virtual nursing.”

Trauco added that, when practicing virtual care, nurses need to be especially intuitive and attentive to potential patient safety issues in the home environment, and be particularly alert to visual and verbal cues about their patients’ well-being.

“Virtual and remote nursing is a new and open career field,” which allows for unlimited potential and possibilities for growth, Trauco said. “Rural and marginalized communities are prime areas of development” for virtual nursing, and now is a great time to explore opportunities in telenursing. The increased use of virtual nursing throughout the health care industry “will create a tsunami of change… and an abundance of new opportunities for virtual and remote nurses.”

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