By Cindy Koppen
Historically, hospitals have aimed to solve the nursing shortage problem with travel nurses and overtime. Both methods, however, are prohibitively expensive. As the skills gap continues, virtual nurses in acute care settings are an increasingly viable solution — one that can free up more on-site employees’ time and energy while reducing hospital costs. But if financial leaders want to see high returns on virtual care investments, they must implement technology with careful consideration.
Many challenges arise as on-site and virtual nurses learn to work together. The workflow is specific — the right person with the right skills and credentials must receive the right task at exactly the right time — and this can be difficult to pull off in a virtual setting. On-site and virtual nurses must also trust one another to work together to deliver the best possible care. Handing off important tasks to remote workers can be uncomfortable when the patient’s well-being is at stake. On top of that, on-site nurses might feel they’re under scrutiny with cameras and new technology in patients’ rooms.
The key to managing through these challenges is enabling effective collaboration between in-person staff and remote colleagues. The following three strategies can help:
1. Identify Solution Areas With the Highest ROI Potential
First, CFOs should analyze the organization from every angle — including the number of beds, patient turnover, and more — to begin designing a customized solution that addresses specific needs. With this overarching view, CFOs can better anticipate where virtual health providers could generate the most financial and clinical ROI. For example, if a CFO recognizes that the organization has room for improvement when it comes to fall prevention, they might see the most immediate ROI by first implementing virtual nurses for fall monitoring.
Once CFOs have identified where their organizations are most in need of solutions, it’s time to define the solutions in the actual hospital setting. CFOs and organization leaders should consult with their clinical teams and virtual health providers to ensure they have the right roles, units, and processes in place to enable virtual nurses to deliver clinical and financial ROI.
2. Align Change Management With the ROI Model
As healthcare organizations work to implement new technologies, CNOs should be heavily involved in the development of change management plans, and those plans should align with the overall ROI model for acute virtual care. For example, if the virtual care goal is to reduce travelers and overtime by certain amounts, the change management plan around implementing virtual nurses should reflect those specific goals.
As the overseer of nursing talent, the CNO has the greatest ability to align existing hospital policies and procedures with new roles and responsibilities that come with implementing virtual nurses. For example, if the overall goal is to train 50% of in-person staff to interact with their virtual counterparts within three months of program launch, it will take universal adoption of the changed team structure and new shared responsibilities. CNOs should delineate such new roles and responsibilities and share them with other hospital leaders in the development of a change management plan.
3. Ensure Appropriate Acculturation
Virtual nurses must experience normal on-site orientation procedures in order to fully understand hospital processes and local populations. Hospitals often share the same requirements (labeling IV drips, for instance) but differ in how they choose to meet them. Even if nurses are on TVs in patients’ rooms, they need to look, feel, act, and communicate as though they’re part of the in-person staff. In-person orientation processes can give virtual nurses the chance to build familiarity with the team and its processes.
On the other side of the equation, in-person staff need to become familiar with hospital technology and task management software. Virtual care providers will often recommend tasks that can only be performed by on-site staff, and effective collaboration is critical in realizing the clinical and financial value of virtual care.
Hospitals everywhere are being impacted by the nursing shortage, but innovations in healthcare technology are allowing virtual nurses to step in and fill the gaps. By implementing a team of virtual health providers properly, hospitals can deliver higher quality care at a lower cost.
Cindy Koppen is the senior vice president of clinical solutions and chief nursing officer at Banyan Medical Systems, an innovative digital healthcare provider with revolutionary solutions for greater care, better patient outcomes, increased efficiency, and lowered expenses.