Telehealth is poised to become the next revolution in healthcare. Recent statistics indicate that most Americans will opt for virtual healthcare in the coming decade. According to a McKinsey report, the use of telemedicine increased by a factor of 38 since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This surge in numbers is supported by several factors. The first is the reality that technology is now at everyone’s fingertips. As long as someone has an internet-connected device, they can book and change appointments, view test results and even pick up prescriptions online.
The second reason is the pursuit of safe medical care. When COVID-19 numbers peaked in 2020, healthcare professionals advised Americans to avoid visiting hospitals and clinics unless they had to in a bid to reduce infection rates. Instead, they could schedule online appointments, get diagnosed and have prescriptions delivered. The number of prescriptions ordered online increased by as much as 85% as a result.
The other reason so many individuals have been willing to embrace telehealth is a reduction in costs. Not only is it cheaper for patients, but hospitals, nursing homes, hospices and other facilities have reduced their costs significantly by transferring some of their services online.
Today’s nursing student is encouraged to study and understand the use of telehealth. Telehealth NPs can get a job faster and earn more in some cases, and they can become a valued asset to any healthcare institution that employs them. When you register for a nursing program, check whether the curriculum integrates telehealth nursing. Carson-Newman University, for example, offers an online MSN-FNP program and an online post-master’s FNP program, both of which cover telehealth for nurses. Each of these courses offers a path to nursing management, and because they are online, you can earn qualifications in two or three years.
What is telehealth, and why has it become a popular option?
Telehealth is where technology and medicine meet. Simply put, it is healthcare delivered through patient portals. As long as one has a phone or computer with internet access, they can access the services of a doctor, a nurse, and even a lab and pharmacy.
Medicine has evolved much in the way shopping did in the last 20 years. As late as the early 2000s, the easiest way to buy anything was to physically drive to a store and pick out the items you needed. Evolving technology has changed all of that. Today, you don’t need to leave your home to buy anything. You can shop and pay online and have your items delivered to your door.
Telemedicine works in much the same way. Instead of visiting a doctor’s office or busy ER, you can visit a portal to access most healthcare services. For many people, this introduces convenience. In a matter of minutes, they can accomplish what used to take hours in the past.
The evolution of telemedicine
An 1879 article in The Lancet journal talked about the use of the telephone to conduct doctor’s appointments and transfer medical knowledge. In 1925, the cover of Science and Invention showed a doctor conducting a diagnosis via radio, and the article in that issue discussed a device that would allow diagnosis by video.
The use of telemedicine, however, is centuries older. In the Middle Ages, doctors diagnosed and treated patients using hand-written notes that were passed back and forth. Major developments in this field emerged in the 20th century, and today, the array of telehealth services ranges from simple diagnoses to complex surgeries.
One of the best-case uses of modern-day telemedicine was seen in 1988 when an earthquake struck Armenia. Although aid was quickly delivered, it became clear that it was critical to provide healthcare on the ground. Unfortunately, the conditions hindered travel, and doctors and nurses couldn’t reach those who needed treatment.
NASA stepped in, and together with the Soviet Union, they started the Telemedicine Spacebridge Project. Doctors from four US hospitals and other medical professionals were able to offer consultations in reconstructive surgery, public health and physical rehabilitation.
Where is telemedicine now?
Today’s widespread adoption of these technologies can be attributed to factors such as:
- Consumers are more willing to use telehealth.
- Healthcare providers have embraced telemedicine as a way to provide timely care, improve patient safety and cut costs.
- The government has instituted the necessary regulatory changes to allow reimbursement.
For everyone involved, affordability is another big draw to virtual medicine. Patients can lower the costs associated with in-person doctor visits, and facilities can eliminate some of the costs they incur every time a patient walks through their doors.
Why telehealth for nurses?
Healthcare has evolved a great deal in recent decades, and with it, the role of the nurse has evolved. Today’s practitioner isn’t limited to changing bedpans, making beds and making sure that patients take their medication.
Nurses are now a core member of the treatment staff. They are involved in diagnosing patients, ordering and interpreting tests and providing day-to-day bedside care. They complement doctors, and many of them have become senior healthcare managers.
According to a 2020 Mayo Clinic report, 75% of health practitioners, including nurses, said that telehealth made healthcare delivery easier, especially when it comes to helping patients manage chronic conditions and ER follow-ups.
The main advantages of telehealth for nurses are:
They reduce costs
Through virtual medical care, nurses can reduce the number of admissions, free up hospital beds, reduce staff workload and overtime, and decrease the overall amount of time that patients spend in the hospital.
They improve access to healthcare
Patients in rural areas can access medical services just as well as if they were in the city. In the past, they had to travel and endure long wait times to get basic services like diagnoses and prescriptions. With virtual care, all they need to do is register on a portal to access medical care.
Nurses can identify problems earlier
Wearable technology has made it easier for nurses to detect problems early and institute life-saving interventions.
In patients who present with certain symptoms, for example, a nurse can monitor their heartbeat through a device that transmits information to a console in the hospital and take action as required.
How can nurses help patients use telehealth?
The first task for a nurse is to find out whether a patient has the necessary equipment to access telemedicine and whether they are willing to use it. Although its use is growing, it hasn’t been embraced by everyone. Many people still prefer in-doctor visits.
Older patients, who make up the bulk of hospital visits and admissions in America, may have a hard time accepting and adopting virtual medical care.
Telehealth nurses can help reluctant patients by showing them how the technology works and assuring them that it doesn’t affect the quality of care that they receive.
Here are some of the interventions that nurses can use to help patients make the switch to telehealth.
They can assess the ability of the patient to use the technology
Nurses should find out whether a patient has a cell phone, tablet or computer with internet access and whether they know how to use it to access their medical portal.
Telehealth NPs can arrange a special in-person visit where they take patients through the step-by-step process of logging in and accessing their medical information. They can also show them how to order tests and retrieve their prescriptions.
To be a good telehealth nurse, they must hone their listening and observation skills
Many sick patients have received timely help because a nurse noticed something odd during a video call. As a telehealth medical practitioner, you must become an active listener and have acute observation skills. Showing patients that you have this type of competence helps them trust the system even more.
Nurses can use online consultations to improve home healthcare
Home healthcare has become commonplace in America. Caregivers coordinate with nurses and doctors to care for elderly and/or chronically ill patients.
Online healthcare makes this easy. The nurse can talk to the caregiver on video and audio calls and give them access to the patient portal so that they can see their medical history.
Telehealth NPs can encourage patients to use wearables
Wearable devices are very popular these days, and they can track basic health functions effectively. A good nurse encourages their patients to make use of this technology. By connecting it to their portal, the nurse can keep track of metrics like heart rate and blood pressure and intervene when necessary.
Common roles for nurses in telehealth
As a nursing student who is studying telehealth, you may be wondering what roles you will be qualified for. Here is a look at some of the jobs available to those who understand telemedicine.
Your role will be to manage all telehealth activities wherever you work. If you are employed in a busy hospital, for example, your job will involve overseeing all telehealth cases that are managed by nurses and ensuring that each patient receives proper care. You will also be charged with determining whether patients qualify for virtual healthcare.
You can work in hospitals, urgent care centers, home health agencies, government care facilities and even schools.
For this role, you will be required to coordinate the delivery of telemedicine to patients. You may be asked to implement virtual care for patients who have been cleared by the telehealth manager, ensure that they follow hospital guidelines and policies, and make sure that each patient is properly oriented with the system.
You may also be required to inventory hospital telehealth systems and equipment and evaluate whether procedures work as intended.
Telehealth coordinators can work in hospitals, elder care facilities, hospices, government facilities, rehabs, schools, universities and even jails.
This role requires direct contact with the patient. It is the job of the family or patient monitor to ensure that each party knows how to use the system, with the nurse monitoring all activity.
You may find yourself visiting patients at home to teach them how to access their portals or assess their equipment and software.
If something goes wrong, you will usually be the first to notice, and you can report it to your supervisor or manager. You can find employment in any healthcare facility that provides telehealth services.
Remote patient monitor
This role serves patients who are far away from the hospital and need frequent monitoring. As a remote monitor, it will be your job to track the patient’s condition and report any changes to a doctor or specialist.
If you have the right qualifications, you may track patient vitals and provide the necessary interventions.
Care transition coordinator
When patients leave the hospital, they often have to be monitored until they are fully recovered. Instead of asking them to come in for appointments, telehealth has made it possible to track their recovery and provide advice and information as needed.
Telehealth NPs often take up this role. They make sure that the patient is properly settled at home and show them how to log into their portal, set up a conference call and transmit data from their wearables.
In this role, telehealth nurses coordinate all activities related to virtual healthcare, including in-person visits in the hospital or at home. They also help patients book appointments with specialists. You may be required to help with reimbursements as well.
Telemetry manager or coordinator
Telemetry entails the monitoring of data from remote devices. Big hospitals that have significant numbers of online patients often need a dedicated individual to monitor the data transmitted from all devices and inform doctors and specialists of any changes.
How can I become a telehealth NP?
Many nursing courses now integrate telehealth as part of the curriculum, but before you enroll, you should double-check to make sure that the module exists and is covered in depth.
If you want to work specifically in telehealth, it is helpful to obtain some type of IT qualification.
You can study medical informatics for nurses, which teaches about IT in nursing and healthcare, or nursing informatics, which combines IT and healthcare. You might also choose an IT course that covers what you need to know to work in healthcare.
Should I study telehealth online?
It is a good idea to study telehealth online as it exposes you to the intricacies of communicating with others in remote locations.
However, it is important to consider whether online study suits your personality and learning style. Some people, especially those who have a hard time sticking to a schedule without supervision, don’t do well with online courses. This type of learning is best for those who are disciplined enough to set aside a few hours to study each day and complete their assignments.
Make sure you choose an accredited nursing school. Employers will check where you obtained your nursing qualifications, and if you didn’t attend a university that has the right accreditation, they may be reluctant to offer you a job.
You should also clarify what the course requirements are before you enroll. Can you spare the time required to complete all the modules? This is especially important for working professionals and those who have young families.
Tips for online nursing students
- Set aside a study area where you can concentrate. If you are already working as a nurse, find a quiet room in the hospital where you can study for an hour or two without interruptions. Otherwise, set up a room at home that is free of foot traffic and noise.
- Draw up a to-do list for each module so you don’t overlook anything.
- Read the syllabus and understand what is required of you.
- Don’t be afraid to explore technology, especially the type you will be using at work.
- Be an active participant in online discussion groups. This is one of the best ways to learn.
- Keep in touch with your course coordinator and let them know if you encounter difficulties along the way.
- For working professionals, it is a good idea to let your employer know that you are back in school. They will allow you time to study, and they can also start to consider how to promote you once you gain your qualifications.
- Take care of your physical and mental health. Numerous websites cover health and wellness for nurses. For example, you can try different types of yoga after a long day of work and study.
- Ask for help when you need it. The sooner you seek assistance, the sooner you will be able to complete your course.
Telehealth is quickly becoming a way of life. Many Americans appreciate it is a way of saving money, obtaining a timely diagnosis, and avoiding crowded ERs and waiting rooms. It is also a good way to track one’s health at little or no cost.
As a nursing student, you are in a unique position to enter this niche. If you choose a nursing course that has a telehealth module, you will gain the skills that employers are looking for. Telehealth NPs are well-compensated and can quickly rise the career ladder to become supervisors or managers.