Have you considered switching careers to become a telehealth nurse? Only some people are bold enough to set a new career path, but the rewards are worth it. Unlike other medical fields, telehealth nursing is a new concept that radically changes the healthcare system.
While telehealth has been around for decades, it has made leaps and bounds in recent years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, telehealth visits increased 154% between March 2019 and March 2020. That number is expected to grow, with over 40% of Americans considering replacing in-person appointments with virtual and on-demand remote healthcare.
As the shift toward virtual healthcare becomes more pronounced, incorporating telehealth services into nursing is no longer an option. Doing so empowers healthcare organizations to reduce expenses and improve overall patient outcomes by ensuring that more individuals receive timely nursing care. With telehealth nursing growing exponentially, healthcare professionals must understand how telehealth technology can benefit patients, nurses, and the medical industry.
What is telehealth nursing?
Telehealth nursing delivers care remotely using powerful technological devices such as computers, smartphones, and tablets. Also known as nursing telepractice and telenursing, telehealth nursing sessions can be conducted anywhere. In emergencies, nurses worldwide can participate in telephone triage setups. This allows nurses to monitor their patients’ blood glucose, respiration, heart rate, and oxygen levels.
Although the fundamental definition of telehealth nursing is straightforward, the practice has evolved significantly. Traditionally performed solely within the realms of independent practices, telehealth nursing has blossomed into an extension of several clinics, hospitals, and healthcare plans over the last few years. For example, most healthcare insurers provide telehealth nursing services as part of workplace wellness programs, with constant employee check-ins to discuss their general health status and management of chronic health illnesses.
Since telehealth nursing has become a component of well-established acute care institutions, it is easier for nurses to evaluate a patient’s condition and identify if an in-person visit is required. As the world is coping with the after-effects of the pandemic, telehealth nursing allows people with disabilities, family caregivers, and older adults to receive essential medical services and clinical advice without visiting a healthcare provider’s office. Doing so allows these vulnerable populations to take charge of their health and avoid unnecessary exposure to potential illnesses.
What are the duties and responsibilities of telehealth nurses?
There are some who wonder, what do telehealth nurses do? The answer is broad, but it all starts with a degree from a leading academic institution like Elmhurst University. Like traditional nurses, telehealth RNs provide care to patients, although their responsibilities differ slightly, given the virtual nature of the work. Several online health service providers put telehealth nurses on the frontlines by making them the initial point of contact for patient inquiries.
With millions of Americans gaining healthcare access and an aging population, it is no surprise that the healthcare sector is facing a significant nursing shortage. Nurses work tirelessly to identify and protect individual needs across the entire patient experience and wherever someone needs care. From creating accurate treatment options and diagnoses to the ongoing education of the public about critical medical issues, nurses are indispensable in protecting public health.
Because of the shortage, patients take more time to recover and heal. Thanks to telehealth, nurses can make themselves available to multiple patients. On average, telehealth consultations take 20% less time than in-person visits. When nurses spend less time charting and moving between patients, they can engage in meaningful interactions with patients and provide more personalized care.
Put simply, providing more personalized patient attention is a crucial differentiator within the telehealth nursing industry. However, it is worth noting that superior customer service is only one of the responsibilities telehealth RNs can expect. Other duties and responsibilities for telehealth RNs include the following.
Conduct health assessments
Telehealth nurses can perform routine checkups to gather baseline patient health data, confirm and determine diagnoses, and make clinical judgments on their changing health status and management. During health assessments, telenurses can ask patients about their medical history, vaccination status, current lifestyle, and behaviors in order to create a comprehensive care plan.
While conducting health assessments, telehealth nurses also consider their patient’s cultural dynamics to provide culturally-appropriate care. This means learning about the meaning of the patient’s illness concerning their unique culture. This allows telehealth nurses to acquire valuable information to provide culturally appropriate medication. Answers to these questions can also help telehealth nurses create a patient profile, which can be helpful when dealing with multiple individuals from different groups.
Develop a comprehensive treatment plan
Telehealth nurses develop a comprehensive treatment plan that outlines the patient’s condition, treatment objectives, the treatment options for the disease and possible side effects, and the timeframe for the length of care. They also determine the most appropriate treatment course based on the scientific knowledge about the human body and its treatment responses. By creating a treatment plan, telenurses can establish a guide, set achievable goals, address potential issues, reduce healthcare costs, and allow for care continuity.
Developing a treatment plan requires constant iteration. As the patient’s condition improves or worsens, telenurses must find ideal treatment options for the current situation to prevent side effects and improve outcomes. Telehealth nurses are skilled in spotting these symptoms and flagging potential issues as part of their training. This lets them provide excellent patient care, eliminate workflow redundancies, and improve operational efficiency.
Monitor the patient’s condition
Telehealth nurses must closely monitor their patients to document any symptoms or pertinent information that might help with a diagnosis or a modification to a patient’s care regimen. This may entail scouring patient records to ensure the appropriate medicines and doses are documented. They also monitor patients’ vital signs to assist them in identifying the underlying reasons for their medical issues.
Traditionally, this can be challenging, considering most telehealth nurses work remotely and lack specialized equipment used in hospitals. Fortunately, the emergence of robust remote patient monitoring (RPM) technologies has allowed telehealth nurses to monitor patient data and advocate for patient-centered care. When nurses have quick access to relevant patient data, they can speed up diagnoses and facilitate timely treatment plan changes.
Provide support and educate patients
Patients frequently depend on nurses for encouragement and advice as they understand their diagnosis and decide the next steps. Telehealth nurses can provide clinical support to patients in remote locations via video conferencing technologies. This could involve providing the patient with directions on how to perform rehabilitation exercises or practices and explaining the drugs the patient must take and the schedule of their next session.
Educating patients also helps them learn how to manage their self-care and avoid non-essential readmissions. Recent reports reveal that the average patient readmission rates are increasing by 14% annually, with costs rising to over $15,000. Telenurses can ensure patients and their families understand after-care hospital instructions by providing patient support and education.
Collaborate with other healthcare professionals
As today’s healthcare moves toward highly-collaborative and patient-centered care, telehealth nurses must work with other healthcare personnel to provide patients with comprehensive care from multiple angles. Telehealth nurses interact with physicians, health administrators, technologists, nurse colleagues, and regulators who impact patient and community outcomes.
Through effective collaboration with these professionals, telenurses can offer evidence-backed opinions, improve adherence, and manage medication side effects. Moreover, combining medical knowledge and backgrounds allows telehealth nurses to evaluate the patient with a different, specialized perspective and gain relevant insights into diagnosis and treatment.
Essential skills to succeed in telehealth nursing
Telehealth nurses must have specific skills and abilities to identify patient needs and work to meet those needs.
Telehealth nurses spend a significant amount of their time communicating with patients from a distance. So, it is no surprise that the best telenurses are excellent communicators. Patients often have distinctive traits and behaviors that affect how they interact, such as their willingness to work with a healthcare professional and manage their health.
Therefore, telenurses must learn various communication skills when interacting with them. Even if they are in the same room as the patient, telehealth nurses must convey healthcare knowledge, understanding, and compassion in order to address diagnoses, care, and after-treatment plans. This means telenurses must master active listening to understand what the patient is trying to communicate. When telehealth nurses can apply active listening to virtual consultations, they can identify quickly what the patients are experiencing and empathize with the situation.
Telehealth nurses must be digitally literate to use the technologies required to do their jobs. This means understanding how to use and operate mobile phones, video conferencing platforms, calendar systems, email, and other computer technologies. With excellent tech literacy skills, telehealth nurses can increase access to and care for the most vulnerable patient populations. It also supports the telenurse’s efforts to improve patient health literacy, protecting them against potentially-dangerous online medical misinformation.
Attention to detail
Attention to detail is critical when providing medical care, especially in a virtual work environment. A telehealth nurse must accurately document patient concerns and medical advice even in a pressure-packed situation. They must also be attentive in scheduling appointments and communicating with patients regarding follow-up care and upcoming visits.
By being detail-oriented, telenurses can remember the nuances of a delicate case and develop a care plan suitable to patient requirements. When telehealth nurses can stay on their guard for the unpredictable and unexpected, they can take immediate action to avoid unnecessary hospitalization.
Telehealth nurses must develop creative solutions to manage daily processes, define patient issues, and choose treatment interventions. Although telenurses rely on healthcare expertise and experience in various situations, those with problem-solving skills are better qualified to serve their virtual patients. This is because telehealth nurses with problem-solving skills can see issues not as barriers but as opportunities to improve their patient’s health and well-being.
Once telenurses determine the proper interventions, they can use their problem-solving skills to develop a plan and decide how to proceed. This means determining the steps they must take to track their decision and evaluating the results of their treatment interventions. Comparing actual results with the established goals and objectives empowers telehealth nurses to identify the facets contributing to the plan’s success or failure and adjust accordingly.
A compassionate and empathetic demeanor with a nurturing and professional bedside manner is critical to success as a telehealth nurse. Like in-person nurses, telenurses educate, comfort, and help their patients achieve their best lives. Since every patient communicates and experiences medical conditions differently, being empathetic allows telehealth nurses to step into the patient’s shoes and understand their unique requirements.
Moreover, empathy also helps telenurses provide better preventative and urgent care by treating virtual patients based on their distinctive medical histories, demographics, and backgrounds. When telenurses understand how healthcare issues can appear in underserved and minority groups, they can avoid missing potential symptoms of a severe medical condition.
Are you ready to become a telehealth nurse?
You must be a registered nurse to practice telehealth nursing. Earning a nursing degree from an accredited academic institution is an excellent start. After earning your degree, the next step is passing the National Council Licensure Examination, which can include between 74 and 145 questions.
After passing the NCLEX, you can apply for a state license. Each state has a nursing licensing board that oversees development and updating of nursing requirements. Depending on the state you wish to practice, you might be asked to fulfill clinical practice hours and continuing education responsibilities.
While you can immediately pursue telehealth nursing after obtaining a state license, gaining experience in a healthcare setting is recommended. This gives you the idea of working directly with patients, doctors, and other healthcare professionals. Once you’ve earned enough clinical experience, you can acquire telehealth equipment to pursue an independent practice. Alternatively, you can apply for telehealth nursing job opportunities at hospitals, trauma centers, rehabilitation centers, and outpatient facilities.
Succeeding in the virtual health industry as a telehealth nurse
Telehealth is a growing and exciting field. So, acquiring competent and sufficient skills is critical in improving patient experiences, working toward a meaningful career, and succeeding as a telehealth nurse.