How virtual nursing is increasing nurse satisfaction and transforming patient care

In the midst of the national nurse staffing shortage, nurse recruitment and retention are top priorities for most healthcare industry leaders. In addition to providing hands-on patient care, nurses are tasked with a significant number of administrative tasks, which makes it increasingly important for health systems to develop and deploy innovative care models to better support nurses. HCA Healthcare is leveraging virtual care to do just that and help them provide the best possible care for patients while improving both the nurse and patient experience.

Key takeaways
  • Virtual nurses complete admission health and medication history, discharge teaching and other administrative work to provide bedside nurses more hands-on time with patients.
  • The flexibility offered by virtual care positions allows nurses who require fewer physical demands or less onsite presence to continue caring for patients and lend their experience to bedside nurses.
  • Bedside nurses report that virtual care helps them better balance their workload and that patient satisfaction has increased due to more focused attention from the care team.


“In several pilot programs within our organization, remotely-located virtual nurses are proving to be extremely valuable in the areas of admissions, medication history, discharge teaching and rounding,” said Sherri Hess, vice president and chief nursing informatics officer at HCA Healthcare. “Virtual care can attract a variety of nurses, including nurses considering retirement, who are committed to our goals of improving bedside nurse satisfaction and the patient experience.”

The virtual nurse experience

When Patti Voda, virtual nurse coordinator at Kansas City-based HCA Midwest Health, meets a patient, the first thing she focuses on is who they are as a person – for example, their favorite sports team or a joke they think is funny. The next thing she does is tell the patient about the bedside nurse who’s about to walk into the room. That’s because Patti is part of a new wave of virtual nurses, and she’s talking to the patient via video conference.

As a registered nurse for 38 years, Patti loves interacting with patients and providing high-level care. She still experiences that same level of connection, just in a new way – virtually. She has been involved in HCA Healthcare’s virtual nursing program since day one of Menorah Medical Center’s pilot in Overland Park, Kansas, in May of 2022.

Patti and her colleague, virtual nurse Michelle Hawkins, launched the virtual nurse pilot program together, helping develop and implement cutting-edge technology to enhance patient experience, safety and outcomes. They note that time saved with virtual encounters allows bedside nurses to be more available to their patients and that patients find the experience interesting and enjoyable. 

Like Patti and Michelle, other virtual nurses – many of whom have years of experience but have stepped back from full-time hospital jobs – are becoming valuable members of the patient care team, helping ensure every patient feels heard and taken care of, even on the busiest of days.

How does virtual nursing work?

Virtual nursing allows experienced nurses to provide expertise during routine but important and time-intensive parts of patient care, such as intake and discharge, via remote video conferencing. It is similar to telehealth – real-time, two-way communication between patient and healthcare provider for issues that do not require physical tests or examinations. From a wall-mounted television screen (or, in some cases, a tablet near patient beds), the virtual nurse offers additional information and time to address questions, in collaboration with a bedside nurse who provides physical care — the best of both worlds.

The nurses who participate in virtual nursing programs are fully licensed. Many are former bedside nurses with years of experience, and all are trained in their respective hospital’s electronic health record system, routing and queuing processes, and communication tools, helping to ensure seamless integration.

Prior to engaging with a virtual nurse, bedside nurses first check with patients to ensure they are willing and able to participate in virtual care. For example, it is crucial that a patient can hear and see well to effectively interact with the virtual nurse on the screen. Patients are introduced to their virtual nurse like any other member of the care team, including with background and credentials.

How do virtual nurses help?

During an intake session, which can be a complex process depending on the patient’s medical history, a virtual nurse can assist with documentation. Meanwhile, a bedside nurse conducts the patient’s physical exam. This partnership allows the bedside nurse to focus on hands-on care. Additionally, if the bedside nurse is called to check on another patient, the virtual nurse has the flexibility to stay “in the room” and spend more time answering questions.

Once a patient’s stay is over, the virtual nurse can help with final documentation and reviewing discharge instructions for things like medications or home care. This is often a time when patients or family members have a lot of questions, and virtual nurses have more time to answer them.

For example, Tristan Strickland, clinical nurse coordinator at HCA Healthcare’s Swedish Medical Center in Denver, Colorado, recently shared how a virtual nurse spent time explaining to a patient how a new catheter worked, while the bedside nurse was able to attend to another patient who needed more immediate hands-on care. This is just one of many positive experiences our nurse leaders are sharing as they evaluate the benefits of virtual care alongside their teams.

What are the benefits of virtual care?

The goal of leveraging innovative models of care, like virtual nursing, is to support bedside nurses in care delivery. Virtual nurses are becoming a critical part of the modern care team, and are helping to ensure all patients have a high-quality care experience.

It’s a win-win situation. While the collection of robust measurement data from virtual care pilot programs is ongoing, bedside nurses already have expressed that virtual nursing helps them have a better-balanced workload. Patient satisfaction also has increased due to more focused attention and time for questions.

And for nurses like Patti looking to retire in the coming years, virtual care offers a great alternative to still do what they love in a more flexible, remote environment. In other situations, such as with nurses who cannot perform the needed physical activity, this option provides the opportunity for them to take care of people without the physical demands of bedside care.

How is HCA Healthcare is leveraging virtual nursing to support patient care?

HCA Healthcare has implemented virtual care pilot programs at more than ten facilities across nearly as many states over the past two years. In early patient surveys during the implementation of virtual nursing at HCA Florida University Hospital in Davie, Florida, patients shared 100% positive feedback on the virtual care experience, and during the implementation of a pilot program at Mission Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, the positive patient satisfaction rate was 88%.

In terms of what the virtual care program can do for the future of nursing, Phillip Shanaghan, a registered nurse at Mission Hospital, explained how this is already proving to be beneficial in his daily workflow. In the coming months, HCA Healthcare will continue to evaluate the impact of virtual nurses and consider future expansion of virtual care to support bedside colleagues.

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