By Chaunie Brusie
A month ago, after dropping my older kids off at school and while safely parked with my youngest strapped in her car seat, I was able to see a doctor, explain my symptoms, pay my copay, and get a prescription for antibiotics, all within minutes and all without even leaving my warm car.
How? Thanks to my telehealth app, which lets me and my kids see a family doctor, pediatrician, or even a therapist, from the comfort of my own home (or car) and is covered by our insurance provider. As a former hospital nurse, I feel very comfortable with assessing my own and my family’s symptoms for basic health conditions and using telehealth technology as an adjunct to primary care visits and frankly, the convenience just can’t be beaten. Who wants to spend hours in a waiting room when they’re sick anyway?
The benefits of telehealth, especially for everyday consumers, are quickly becoming embraced and the future of telehealth is exploding. Here’s what nurses can expect from the growing field.
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The Future of Telehealth
Telehealth has transformed the world of medicine since its advent and it is only continuing to grow in popularly. Stanford Children’s Health, for instance, announced this month that it plans to double its number of telehealth visits from 1,100 to 2,500 in 2019. Allowing children and their caregivers to use telehealth in ways such as a nurse practitioner using a remote camera at their primary clinic to relay images and video to a doctor in a specialty clinic allows families to save money, time, and minimize interrupts to school and work.
There are also more products that are being developed in the telehealth field, such as Tyto, a small, unassuming-appearing black box with special adapters that lets a health care provider collect a complete physical assessment, including lungs, heart, ears, skin, and throat, remotely. Remote assessment tools are key to telehealth, as currently, standalone apps are only as good as the patient’s accuracy and knowledge in conveying their symptoms in response to the care provider’s diagnostic questions. Currently, devices such as Tyto have to be offered through a doctor’s office and can be expensive, although patients can use options like Health Savings Accounts to pay for them. They are especially relevant for instances where patients might need intensive follow-up at home or have a history of things like reoccurring ear infections or skin conditions.
How Can Nurses be Employed in Telehealth?
There are a variety of ways that nurses can be a vital and critical part of telehealth, from working in rural communities that may not have access to more specialty providers to working within a hospital setting to collaborate with a larger healthcare team. Here are a just a few of the growing areas that telehealth nursing is being utilized:
- School nurses. Stanford Children’s Health also connects remotely to school nurses in the area, allowing both healthcare professionals to collaborate on the child’s care and devise a plan of action, right from the school nurse’s office.
- Home care. Home care is an area that has relied on telehealth in the past and it will only continue to grow as more patients become comfortable with using the technology.
- In-hospital collaboration. Especially in rural areas, where specialty doctors may not be as readily available, nursing teams are turning to telehealth in order to remotely collaborate with specialists out of area almost instantly. An ICU in Florida that implemented telehealth, for example, both patients and staff have reported feeling better supported and being more satisfied with the quality of care, but funding continues to be an issue.
- Telehealth ICUs. States like Alaska and Washington have rolled out telehealth ICUs, which feature a hub of critical care nurses who remotely monitor patients for things like sepsis management and wound care. For instance, the company Advanced ICU Care, the self-proclaimed leading tele-ICU provider in the United States, has several job openings for Tele ICU/Critical Care RNs, from Houston to New York to Maryland.
- Telehealth NICUs. Telehealth at the NICU level is also being explored and has been found to reduce the need for newborn transfers for respiratory issues and come with significant cost savings for hospitals and families alike.
- Telehealth positions. Increasingly, hospitals and telehealth companies are in need of nurses to be the front lines of telehealth in assessing and monitoring patients, identifying risk, and training and educating patients on how to correctly use accompanying telehealth devices. Even a quick Google search revealed countless telehealth nursing positions in my nondescript Midwest area.
What to Do if You’re a Nurse Interested in Telehealth
If you’re a nurse or a nursing student interested in a possible future career in telehealth, first of all, know that your prospects are good — it really is an exploding field. Telehealth nursing has the potential to have a lot of benefits for nurses too, from flexibility in work hours to the ability to work from home. Or less hands-on care if you have any special physical needs or are a caregiver to family members.
Before transitioning to telehealth, however, it is important that you still gain hands-on experience, especially in the field that you hope to work in. Telehealth nurses need an L.P.N. or R.N. degree and in general, at least one to two years of experience in the area they will be working. You should continue working in the area you hope to specialize in and follow the field of telehealth as it continues to grow to look for your own opportunity to become a telehealth nurse.
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