Virtual nursing is a new way to check in with patients

By Autumn Bishop

Telemedicine isn’t a new concept in health care. Connecting with your health care provider online is a great way to get care without leaving home, especially when you aren’t feeling your best. Receiving lab and X-ray results or receiving care for issues like coughs and colds can commonly be completed using telemedicine.

Did you know that you can also receive care virtually when you’ve been admitted to the hospital? Virtual nursing is a relatively new concept used in hospitals to supplement the care patients receive from the bedside team.

“We looked at what tasks a bedside nurse was doing that could be completed in a different way to help free them up to provide direct patient care,” said Jamie Brummell, director of post-surgical services at LMH Health. “Having a virtual nurse helps free up the bedside staff on the floor to complete assessments, administer medications and help with hands-on needs.”

Marjorie Koeppe has been a nurse for close to 30 years and recently made the transition to virtual nursing. She is one of two nurses helping to provide virtual care for patients on the surgical unit at LMH Health, taking care of admissions and discharges, and conducting rounds on up to 18 patients.

“We check in with patients a couple of times during our shift to find out if they have any needs and connect them with their nurse, aide and other resources to help meet those needs,” she said. “We audit charts to make sure orders are complete and ensure patients are sent home with any medications they brought from home. It’s being a second set of eyes to make sure everything runs smoothly through the admission and discharge process.”

When virtual nursing became available at LMH Health, Koeppe jumped at the chance to move into the role. She wanted to be on the front line of this technology at LMH.

“Taking that step with technology and integrating that into patient care was exciting for me to be part of, especially after seeing how much technology has grown as part of patient care,” Koeppe said. “It’s a program that I see potential to grow, and that’s very exciting.”

How does virtual nursing work?

Brummell said that all of the rooms on LMH Health’s post-surgical unit (3-West) and 10 rooms of the medical unit (2-North) are equipped with televisions that have a camera system. This allows a virtual nurse to visit a patient throughout the day.

“We have virtual nurses on two shifts, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and from 3 to 11 p.m.,” he said. “When the bedside nurse is getting a patient settled and taking their vital signs, they share that a virtual nurse will connect with them to go through admissions paperwork. The virtual nurse comes through with audio only and ask the patient if it’s a good time to talk. If they’re available and able to talk, the virtual nurse will then join in with video through the room’s TV. Virtual nurses are also able to bring others who aren’t present into the conversation. Using a video link, family members can join in and hear information at the same time as a patient.”

The virtual visit allows the nurse to get information including a patient history and learn about immunizations and medications you’re taking at home.

“Having a virtual nurse available frees up bedside nurses to provide direct care. Instead of spending 15 to 20 minutes completing forms, it can be done in a more efficient way,” Brummell said.

The virtual nurse also provides an additional layer of quality care.

“At times we’re able to pick up on things that another nurse didn’t see. Bedside nurses have a lot going on and they’ve been very appreciative for that review,” Koeppe said. “We’re able to be an extra check that ensures we get it right for the patient.”

Adding value to the patient experience

Patient feedback about the virtual nursing program has been positive. Koeppe said it’s important for patients to know that they’re talking with a person who’s in the hospital and not far away.

“Knowing that I’m another hospital employee that’s here for them makes a big difference,” she said. “It means a lot to them that someone else onsite is checking in with them.”

Being a resource and an extra support for patients is fulfilling for Koeppe. She said that sometimes patients will share things with her that they may not have shared with a bedside nurse.

“I can pop in and ask a patient what they need, what I can help with that we aren’t doing right now,” Koeppe said. “Patients sometimes tell me about things that they didn’t want to bother the nurse with or didn’t feel comfortable saying in person. It’s not the same as being at the bedside and being able care for that need right there, but it provides an additional level of access for the patient.”

In one instance, Koeppe was going through discharge paperwork with a patient who had undergone knee replacement when they mentioned an issue with their recovery care. The ice machine they’d purchased a few months earlier to relieve pain and swelling after a different surgery was leaking and wasn’t usable. They couldn’t remember exactly where they got the machine, other than somewhere in the LMH Health system.

“If you’ve ever had a knee replacement, you know that ice is a big part of it. I told them I’d check into it and when the virtual visit ended, I called around and found out where they got the machine. I was able to give them the information to get it replaced that day and free of charge because it was under warranty,” Koeppe said. “The bedside nurse didn’t have to make those phone calls and was so appreciative of how much that helped. It’s those kind of little things that I enjoy being able to do.”

Looking toward the future

Both Brummell and Koeppe believe the sky is the limit when it comes to virtual nursing. Technology has evolved exponentially and there’s still room to grow.

“Our virtual nurses are seeing patients in the Emergency Department when we’re holding patients there until a room is ready,” Brummell said. “We don’t have the video component there yet, but we see it as an opportunity to increase efficiency moving forward.”

Adopting the virtual nursing technology has been simple. Koeppe is able to quickly connect with patients at the push of a button. Nurses are able to hand off paperwork to her and free up time to spend providing hands-on care to patients. It’s been a win-win situation.

“At LMH Health, our philosophy is to put the patient first and work better together,” she said. “Virtual nursing adds a component to help us work together to meet the patient’s needs and provide high-quality care.”

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