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The health care field is pivoting to adopt improved telehealth services wherever possible in the wake of COVID-19 and a broad virtual shift. Telehealth can be a tool for nurses to expand their expertise and bring greater flexibility to patient care and their schedules.
Telehealth even has the power to change care accessibility, opening up new avenues to meet with and monitor patients even in distant rural areas. Nurses can play a vital role in developing this transformational accessibility tool while continuously improving the capabilities of telehealth.
But first, understand the reasons for long-term telehealth adoption and the challenges surrounding it.
The Increase in Telehealth Adoption
The use and popularity of telehealth expanded massively in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. An assessment of telehealth capabilities in 2019 showed only 43% of facilities were ready to harness the power of telehealth. Just a year later, that number went up to 95%. This is a powerful example of how quickly telemedicine services have proven their value to patients.
And telehealth looks to long outlast the pandemic. Because telehealth offers such a wide range of benefits for use both in and out of a facility, it is hard to imagine a world in which care providers roll back this platform. Telehealth can reduce costs, improve accessibility to care, and allow mobile nurses to better monitor their patients.
Jefferson Health in Philadelphia has had plenty of experience exploring whether or not telehealth really can save costs. Their findings show that especially when it comes to diverting patients from more expensive care, massive savings can result for both the care facility and the patient. For example, each time an ER visit was diverted through a virtual screening, the savings to the hospital range from $309 to $1,500. Follow-up care, in addition, had reduced costs through telehealth.
This tool also makes accessible health care far easier to achieve. Where normally travel costs, distance, and health concerns may have prevented a patient from engaging in preventive care, now telehealth can get these patients seen and treated. This eliminates an important barrier to care that has the potential to reduce overall health care costs through preventative medicine.
Because cost savings and accessibility are so important in managing public care, nurses are increasingly finding themselves learning and utilizing this tool wherever they are. Fortunately, telehealth can be a means to put power over the management and fluidity of care into the hands of expert nurses. But first, they have to address the challenges.
The Challenges Surrounding Telehealth
Telehealth is a powerful tool that has the potential to improve health outcomes through successful data management. However, adopting this platform means adding a new layer of technical expertise to the position of nursing. As if these essential care professionals didn’t have enough on their plate already, telehealth is a new system to learn that can come with added responsibilities.
Among the challenges you may encounter as a nurse dealing with telemedicine, the following are some of the most prominent:
Changing Nursing Responsibilities
The job of a nurse has always more or less been focused on communication. These experts are the focal point of care management between doctors and patients. Their duties run the gamut from data entry and note-taking to practicing life-saving care interventions.
With telehealth, roles and responsibilities are shifting somewhat. First, nurses have to learn to integrate with the telemedicine platform seamlessly and efficiently while inputting patient data and coordinating with other members of the care team. This includes explaining the nature and function of telehealth technology to the patient.
And because telehealth means dealing with tech, various IT and technical skills will come in handy. Data privacy is one key component of this.
Managing Digital Privacy
As a networked component of health care, telehealth puts patient data at some level of risk. In a world in which valuable medical data is bombarded by cyber criminals, nurses have to be extra careful in protecting patient data on telehealth platforms to meet the stipulations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
This means that when patient data is in a digital format, it qualifies as protected information and must be handled as such. In turn, nurses must maintain the highest standard of digital safety, password security, and network privacy.
Managing Intrastate Patients
The final important challenge that nurses will face when dealing with telehealth care is managing patients across state borders. Since medical licensing is typically state-specific, monitoring remote patients out of state can present bureaucratic difficulties.
Not only is treatment licensing a question when working across borders, but insurance stipulations and fee structures can all be altered due to a health care system built for geographic exclusivity.
While any nurse who works with telehealth may run into any of these challenges, it is possible to overcome them and make a difference in equitable and accessible care solutions for your patients.
How Nurses Can Make a Difference
With the right approach, telehealth can be beneficial both to you as a nurse and to your patients. For example, the availability of telehealth may even allow you to work remotely, giving you added flexibility to your work-life balance.
But to truly make an impact on the potential of telehealth to improve care outcomes, consider the following strategies:
- Be open to tech innovations. Learning new platforms can be difficult, but the payoff can mean greater convenience.
- Support telehealth adoption at your facility. At this point in the game, few providers have yet to look into telehealth, but you can always point out new use cases.
- Seek out cross-state telehealth licensing. The Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact (eNLC) can expenditure this process, granted you meet the requirements.
- Support programs that target underserved populations with telehealth.
- Provide feedback to employers and telehealth system providers. Your input can help improve systems for everyone.
By understanding the benefits and challenges of telehealth in nursing, you are better prepared to adopt these systems effectively. Then, you can practice strategies like these to improve the state of telehealth as a safe, powerful, and cost-saving means of care.
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