For decades, nurses have used telehealth to deliver high-quality care to patients, especially those in rural areas. Still, in-person care has remained the norm—that is, until the emergence of COVID-19. Seemingly overnight, telehealth has become the primary way for healthcare professionals to see their patients. Upon the release of COVID vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, many anticipated a return to brick-and-mortar care, but telehealth appears to be here to stay, and nurses who are unfamiliar with these auditory and visual modalities may find themselves unable to fully accomplish their duties.
What Exactly Is Telehealth?
Telehealth is defined as “the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration.” Not to be confused with telemedicine, telehealth refers to the delivery of both clinical and non-clinical services. Nurses can now schedule appointments and educate patients on symptom management during video conferences or monitor patient vitals with home monitoring equipment, all without ever coming face-to-face with patients. Telehealth is a cost-effective way to provide care for acute and chronic conditions, but no one expected it to grow at such an explosive rate.
Telehealth is estimated to have grown by 80% during 2020, far greater than the 16.8% predicted prior to the pandemic. Today, an estimated one out of every three visits will be conducted virtually, and up to 65% of patients plan on using telehealth going forward. Telehealth became a household word in a matter of months, and the reason is clear: Thanks to Zoom and other teleconferencing software, COVID-19 patients can connect with family members and non-COVID-19 patients can receive care without fear of spreading the virus.
With teleconferencing, patients can also avoid having to clear their schedule, wade through traffic, and spend time in a waiting room. “It’s a very easy way to get an expert opinion without leaving your apartment,” patient Charlie Freyre told NPR. “We all know what going to the doctor can be like.” Despite the benefits, however, telehealth’s rapid adoption has left many nurses struggling to adopt telecommunication technology.
The Four P’s
In their mad dash to adapt to the pandemic, hospitals and healthcare facilities invested in telehealth equipment and platforms without carefully considering which technologies suited their needs. As a result, many nurses were handed unfamiliar technology while unaware of the nuances of telehealth, such as privacy and consent. To educate nurses and other healthcare professionals on emerging technology, researchers have developed the Four P’s of Telehealth:
Not every patient encounter can be conducted online, and nurses must know when virtual visits are appropriate. For example, patients in rural communities may not have access to high-speed internet, although they would benefit greatly from telehealth services. Alternatively, loss of sight or hearing may prevent a patient from communicating via teleconference. There are also the various laws governing telehealth to consider (Zoom is not a HIPPA secure platform). As overwhelming as it may be, it falls on nurses to be mindful of the nuances of telehealth.
Once a plan is in place, it’s time to put it into action. To provide optimal telehealth services, healthcare facilities will establish protocols, designate a setting for delivery, and provide training for providers. Everything from scheduling conflicts to telehealth emergencies must be addressed. Nurses should take this time to develop their telehealth etiquette and familiarize themselves with the technology they’ll be working with. At The University of Texas Permian Basin, registered nurses can enroll in Theories and Issues in Professional Nursing and Health Care, an online course that helps students overcome issues impacting nursing, including the emerging role of health information technologies.
Providing high-quality care and improving patient outcomes is the goal of every nurse, regardless of the medium. Nurses should be able to not only determine a patient’s health status using home monitoring equipment but also walk them through the use of that equipment. Nurse-patient encounters should conclude as usual, with nurses documenting the visit, setting a follow-up appointment, or collaborating with other healthcare professionals, if necessary. Nursing professionals are already expected to perform to the highest standards. Now, they must maintain this level of excellence whether meeting patients online or offline.
The final phase may be the most important, as it helps to gauge the effectiveness of protocols and training programs. To improve upon these processes, healthcare professionals evaluate the impact of telehealth on patient experiences and outcomes, among other factors. Telehealth nurses must have an appreciation for these evaluation techniques and be able to incorporate them into their patient encounters.
The Ever-Changing Healthcare Field
By no means is telehealth replacing brick-and-mortar care. Thorough and personal, in-person visits allow healthcare professionals to build a rapport with patients and identify medical concerns that may otherwise go unnoticed. The convenience of telehealth, however—especially during health crises—means that many patients will request and prefer virtual visits.
As healthcare evolves in this way (and in so many others), nurses with their eyes on the horizon can invest in their future by enrolling in UT Permian Basin’s online RN to BS in Nursing program.
Designed exclusively for registered nurses, our online RN to BS in Nursing program can help you become a nursing leader. Through our program, you’ll explore emerging trends and obstacles in nursing, including social determinants of health, patient-centered care, and information technologies. Upon graduating, you’ll be awarded a BSN from UT Permian Basin as well as a Nurse Manager Certificate from Sigma Theta Tau Nursing Honor Society. These prestigious credentials, along with your honed knowledge and skills, will help you advance your career and succeed in the ever-changing field of nursing.
Are you ready to become a 21st-century nursing leader? Apply to UT Permian Basin’s online RN to BS in Nursing program.