The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly disrupted patient care. An April 2020 report by Evidation Health found that as many as one-third of respondents could not schedule an in-person healthcare appointment or had to cancel an existing one as a result of the pandemic. This left some unable to take medications as prescribed and self-manage chronic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and Type 2 diabetes. Nearly 40% reported switching to telehealth services via phone, text, email or live video to bridge the gap.
In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were more than 1.6 million telehealth encounters during the first quarter of 2020 — a 50% increase over the same period in 2019. During week 13 of the pandemic, specifically, telehealth visits outpaced 2019 numbers by as much as 154%. With the pandemic prompting the expansion of telehealth offerings, nurses who have an understanding of community health principles are more in demand than ever.
What Is Telehealth Nursing?
The American Nurses Association (ANA) defines telehealth nursing as “the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support and promote long-distance clinical healthcare, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration. Technologies include: videoconferencing, the internet, store-and-forward imaging, streaming media, and terrestrial and wireless communications.”
Although telehealth nursing has been in use for decades, it was often limited. Nurses were originally available to patients by telephone, usually during non-office hours, and they would triage and adjust care accordingly. Today, with the expansion of technology, telehealth nursing has morphed into an entire subspecialty that is recognized by the American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nursing (AAACN).
Beyond utilizing phone calls, video calls, text messaging and emails, a considerable part of telehealth nursing involves remote patient monitoring (RPM), where connected and pre-programmed electronic devices record and collect medical data — typically at the patient’s home — and transmit it to another location for review by nurses and healthcare providers. In some cases, patients may also manually input data. This type of monitoring is ideal for tracking:
- Blood pressure
- Blood oxygen
- Blood glucose
- Heart rhythm and rate
What Are the Benefits of Telehealth Nursing?
Telehealth nursing offers several benefits, including:
A means to bypass barriers to care. Patients who would otherwise be unable to attend appointments, (due to lack of transportation, physical limitations, pandemic closures or other), can still access care through telehealth services. Implementing patient education initiatives to expand telehealth access to all ages and ethnicities can also reduce barriers to care, including those tied to social or cultural determinants of community health.
Multiple ways to connect. Today, there are more ways to stay connected to patients than ever before. From text messages to web-based and digital applications like patient portals, telehealth nurses can align their outreach to the patient’s needs and available resources, providing education and support, answering questions and collecting data to guide care decisions.
Reduced healthcare costs. Telehealth services may reduce overall healthcare costs. For example, instead of needing to admit someone with diabetes for observation of blood glucose, the nurse can do the monitoring while the patient is at home. This generally results in less healthcare spending while maintaining bedspace in facilities.
Improved outcomes. By remaining accessible to patients and in close contact, telehealth nursing has the potential to pinpoint and address issues as they arise, improving treatment plan adherence and boosting outcomes.
As technology evolves, so do the number of available telehealth options. When it comes to this type of care delivery, nurses with experience or a willingness to learn are likely to see new career opportunities emerge — not only for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, but beyond, as patients and healthcare providers realize its many benefits.
Learn more about the UL Lafayette online RN to BSN program.