Nursing's Role in the Implementation of Telehealth

Nurses and care coordinators have a key role to play in a practice looking to establish a telehealth platform. As telehealth continues to expand, care coordinators will be continue to be instrumental as the link between patient and doctor and in many cases will become the care providers themselves.

Both the physician and the nurse’s time is a priority. Before telehealth, nurses vetted the patients from the waiting room to the exam room, making sure both patients and doctors were properly prepared for their interactions. Now with telemedicine technology, nurses can offer their expertise and care-taking advice to the patients who aren’t in the exam or waiting rooms. Nurses can extend their care online, answering patient questions, video conferencing, and continuing to serve as relays between the patient and the doctor, allowing patients to stay home while providers plan the next steps. Telehealth doesn’t change the patient-nurse-doctor framework many provider networks have in place, it only takes patients out of waiting rooms and puts them in the comfort of their own homes.

Telehealth allows patients to speak face to face with a provider without having to travel. According to one industry analysis, “Telemedicine offers a potential for individualized, frequent contacts between nurse and patient in a novel setting that increases access to care, and may improve patient care in a manner that is cost-effective for the health care system.” Because of the often intimate association of nurses with patients, nurses are ideal for staffing a hospital's telehealth system, bridging the gap between in person and telehealth visits.

To accommodate for telehealth changes, the workforce of care will have to make adjustments. Some states have licensing programs, such as New Hampshire, for a nurse to be qualified to use the technology. If they reside in one of the 24 states that acknowledge the Nursing Compact, they will be able to use the software across state lines without further accreditation.

Implementation and training for telehealth naturally comes with overhead costs, but the potential benefits of a telehealth system far outweigh the initial time it takes to adapt. Many telehealth systems, like TruClinic, are designed with the provider workflow in mind, making the transition to telemedicine nothing more than an extension of the practice. When a waiting room is moved online, providers don’t change much in their workflow and patients can meet with a provider over their lunch break. Win-win.

Although barriers to telehealth —training overheads, interstate exchange, reimbursement, certification—exist, they are far from prohibitive or permanent impasses, and the benefits to patients and providers alike far outweigh the costs.