As a critical care nurse at Banner Health, a health system serving seven states in the Western United States, I’ve spent the last eight years working in telehealth, as a “virtual nurse.” On average, I monitor 40 to 45 patients every day, across three to six facilities in the region – a far shot from the five or six patients I could monitor as a bedside nurse in the past. My job is to provide care to patients and support to nurses when they need it most, especially at remote community hospitals that don’t have specialized ICUs. When these hospitals admit high acuity patients, our virtual telehealth command center allows me to monitor patients remotely, so these local care teams can keep the patient in their community hospital, rather than having to transport them four or five hours away to access higher acuity care.
The eICU environment at Banner Health is designed to bring care to the patient. My work station has three large monitors, with six split screens connected with patients’ monitors. My two computers are linked to the Philips eICU software called eCareManager, as well as the patients’ electronic medical records, capturing detailed notes about the patients’ conditions. The cameras we use have extremely high definition, allowing us to even read the numbers on an IV bag. With the eICU technology in place, it feels as though I’m in the same room with the patient, even though I’m monitoring from hundreds of miles away.
Undoubtedly, there is a steep learning curve in this new virtual command center. But nurses have traditionally been the earliest adopters of new technologies, and access to these tools has not only enhanced patient care, but is also changing the playing field for nurses. Here are some ways the “virtual” environment is transforming nursing:
The concept of virtual nurses is still new and will require both patients and staff to adjust. As more and more patients become aware of the benefits of telehealth, hospitals around the country are starting to adopt these programs, requiring more skilled nurses to manage them. Telehealth is growing and will be a market driver for health systems. But for nurses like me, it boils down to the fact that thousands of patients received the care they needed, and are alive today, thanks to telehealth. I’m sure even Florence Nightingale would be proud of that.