Telehealth services have certainly grown in popularity in recent years, but the COVID-19 pandemic has forced a rapid acceleration in the number of virtual visits — boosting them an average of 30% between June and November 2020, per data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The American Telemedicine Association predicts that healthcare workers will conduct more than half of all services virtually by 2030. If current trends like this are any indicator, then demand for telehealth is not going away anytime soon. As a result, nurses should prepare for virtual care to become a more substantial part of their scope of practice.
What Skills Do Nurses Need for Telehealth?
In many ways, telehealth simplifies care and patients’ access to it. However, the shift away from traditional in-person interactions requires a learning curve for nurses, in addition to their tremendous responsibilities. “The nurse practicing telehealth promotes patient wellness, assesses patients and provides care in remote or disadvantaged settings, manages chronic conditions, provides transition of care and supports end of life care,” says a January 2021 article published in the Online Journal of Issues in Nursing (OJIN). “The value of telehealth … is increased when the care is provided by a skilled, empathetic nurse prepared to deliver nursing care through technologies.”
While many resources have aimed to prepare physicians and other providers for virtual care, nursing education has not kept the same pace. Therefore, more nurse educators are customizing curricula and adding telehealth learning objectives to help graduates navigate the digital landscape. Continuing education programs, like those offered by employers or industry groups, are another way to ensure nurses develop critical telehealth skills.
Nurses should be aware of the various telehealth methods. Asynchronous care allows patients and healthcare workers to communicate at their convenience, often through email, text messages, patient portals and various apps. Synchronous care — or real-time interactions occurring via phone, video calls and text messaging — are increasingly common, too. Nurses may need to use peripheral devices such as Bluetooth-enabled stethoscopes and cameras to collect data and be comfortable conducting remote monitoring of a patient’s in-home glucose meter or blood pressure monitor.
How Can Nurses Develop Well-Rounded Telehealth Skills?
Because of the prevalence of telehealth, many nurses are at least familiar with the technology and have probably even used it in their own personal health interactions. However, care through a screen creates well-defined legal and ethical responsibilities and ultimately requires practitioners to hone a supportive “webside” manner that makes patients feel as comfortable and cared for as they do with an in-person visit.
Ideally, telehealth training should begin during a degree program, says the OJIN article, where nurse educators use “didactic encounters, simulation activities, projects and clinical experiences” to introduce and explore the topic. Employers can implement these same tactics, too, and effectively split into four distinct learning phases known as the Four P’s:
- Planning: Nurses uncover the legal and regulatory aspects of telehealth, identify which patients and settings are appropriate for this type of care and investigate potential delivery models and barriers
- Preparing: In this phase, professionals learn telehealth etiquette and how to obtain patient consent when using various technological platforms
- Providing: Nurses are allowed to deliver care via a telehealth modality, with emphasis on patient coaching, motivational interviewing, troubleshooting and care coordination
- Performance evaluation: Nurses review collected data and evaluate how the telehealth service has impacted the quality of care, costs and outcomes
By all forecasts, telehealth is here to stay, and nurses should be prepared to spend more time interacting with patients through digital avenues. Nurse educators should prioritize coursework and simulation exercises to enhance these in-demand skills for nursing students.