Implementing Virtual Nursing at Your Facility: Guide and FAQ

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Written by Alexa Davidson, MSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
A virtual nurse corresponds with colleagues.

An estimated one-fifth of registered nurses intend to leave the profession over the next several years. As the nursing shortage continues to create vacancies within your healthcare facility, how can you ensure patients receive quality care? The key for healthcare leaders is to utilize innovative solutions that supplement short-staffing while maintaining high standards of care.

Virtual nursing is a cost-effective way to ensure patients get the care they need in a wide variety of healthcare settings. Technology allows nurses to be virtually present at the bedside to answer patient and family concerns, provide assessments, and offer timely clinical advice. If you’re thinking about setting up a virtual care program but don’t know where to start, this guide has the tips and answers to help you along.

What Is Virtual Nursing?

A virtual nurse is a licensed nurse who uses critical thinking to perform key nursing duties from a remote location. Their nursing expertise may be utilized in various practice settings, from hospitals to ambulatory clinics, providing nursing care such as:

  • Admission intake and discharge teaching
  • Remote monitoring
  • Tele-triage
  • Teleconsultation

Virtual nurses can provide valuable assistance with patient care, help reduce costs, and increase efficiency in practice settings. They’re available 24/7, which means patients can get support when needed, even outside of typical clinic hours. Other benefits of virtual nursing include improved patient engagement as a result of personalized health education about their condition and treatment plan.

Additionally, virtual nurses help reduce the workload on in-house staff by serving as another set of eyes on patients. They can help prevent patient deterioration by catching subtle changes early — particularly if the primary nurse has a heavy workload and is busy with other patients. Bedside nurses may also utilize their virtual counterparts to cosign drugs or verify assessment findings.

A career as a virtual nurse can be appealing for nurses interested in leaving the bedside or needing less physically demanding work. With flexible hours and better control over their schedules, they can become valuable members of your facility’s care team.

What Steps Are Needed to Implement a Virtual Nurse Program?

Setting up a virtual care nursing program requires careful planning and execution. First, it’s important to determine the scope of the program and identify which types of services will be provided. Next, leaders must create policies and protocols that ensure quality standards are met. Healthcare leaders must also equip staff with the necessary technology to ensure that virtual care nurses are able to provide safe and effective care.

With proper training and implementation, virtual care nursing can be an effective way for healthcare facilities to supplement short staffing while producing optimal patient outcomes. Follow the steps below to implement a successful program based on your organization’s goals.

1. Set Program Objectives

Before setting up a virtual care program, it’s important to set realistic goals that will help you measure the success of the program. The desired outcomes will depend on the type of virtual care platform your organization implements. For example, a trauma center may have a higher incidence of closed-head injury patients who are at risk for falls. It may be fitting to invest in a platform that offers AI-enabled fall risk assessments or virtual sitters.

Alternatively, a step-down unit with high ICU readmission rates may consider investing in a platform that allows virtual nurses to monitor vital signs and other assessment pieces. Keep in mind that your facility can start with a program that involves less clinical decision-making, such as discharge teaching, before working up to ICU-level monitoring. Here are some examples of goals for your virtual care nursing program:

  • Increase patient satisfaction scores by providing timely access to care.
  • Reduce call bell response times.
  • Increase access to care for underserved or rural populations.
  • Improve follow-up pain scoring documentation.
  • Reduce fall rates.
  • Reduce readmission rates by providing more effective discharge teaching.
  • Prevent medication errors by providing more thorough medication reconciliation on admission.

2. Create Protocols to Define a Virtual Nurse’s Scope

To effectively implement a virtual care program at your facility, the entire staff should be aware of the expectations of a virtual nurse. Whether a facility hires a virtual nurse from within their organization or through a third-party staffing company, it’s important to have policies and procedures that clearly define their role. Provide staff education prior to the program roll-out to clarify questions about shared responsibilities, nursing delegation, and scope of practice.

3. Invest in Technology

Technology can be used for a number of purposes, such as internet-based video conferencing, telemedicine, and virtual communication via the electronic health record (EHR) system. The type of virtual nursing model you choose will depend on the program goals at your facility. Healthcare organizations may need to invest in technology such as:

  • Telecare platforms
  • Telehealth monitors
  • Cameras for patient rooms
  • Remote monitoring equipment
  • Mobile phones

When choosing the right virtual nursing platforms for your facility’s needs, consider the program objectives. As your staff becomes more comfortable with the platform, you may consider working with advanced telemonitoring technology such as deterioration management or virtual rapid response deployment.

4. Evaluate and Adapt

Throughout the program roll-out, check in with nurses at the bedside to see how it’s going. Objective data like fall rates and call bell response times are helpful — but hearing from nurses at the bedside is equally important to ensuring program success. You may consider conducting anonymous surveys to measure nurses’ perceived outcomes of the program. Example questions may include:

  • How has your workflow changed since implementing the program?
  • Has the number of distractions per shift increased or decreased?
  • How has the program affected patient safety?

Staff feedback, combined with measurable data, can be used to inform changes to the program and guide leaders in deciding about future investments in other virtual care services. It’s important for healthcare administrators to recognize that while virtual nurses supplement healthcare staff, they aren’t meant to take the place of skilled bedside nurses. It’s imperative to continue taking a root-cause approach to correct short-staffing, like examining the work culture and conditions causing nurses to leave. Virtual nurses should never be factored into nurse staffing to justify unsafe nurse-to-patient ratios.

Find Qualified Nursing Professionals for Your Organization

Implementing a virtual nursing program is an innovative way to address staffing challenges in the modern healthcare landscape. Now that you understand how to execute this type of solution, get matched with qualified nurses with the expertise to virtually care for your patients.