The history of telehealth is one that is much longer than some might think. There are examples from both 1879 and 1925 in which magazines from the time displayed articles about doctors using the telephone to reduce unnecessary office visits as well as a cover image showing a doctor diagnosing a patient by radio.1
Fast forward to the present and there are more technologies available for healthcare as well as advances in communication technology. With these new technologies, more people are getting access to healthcare that normally would not, especially in rural communities.Additionally, there are new areas seeing an increase in telehealth development with advancements in stroke care and ICU care.2 For example, with the use of high-quality imaging, the nature of stroke exams has been shown to be very good when done over distance.
COVID-19 Comes into Play
While telehealth has been slowly on the rise over the years, we all have seen a dramatic increase of the need for telehealth with COVID-19 pandemic. But what’s most interesting, is where the need/drive for telehealth to limit the spread of the disease, AND the positive impact of telehealth on our nurses during this difficult time, intersects.
As we all know, the rise of COVID-19 over the past year and a half, has greatly impacted the mental toll on nursing and hospital staff. A recent survey showed that nearly 37 percent of nurses identify as being burned out, stressed and/or overworked as well as showing that only 32 percent of nurses are satisfied with their job; down from 52 percent prior to COVID
“On one hand, this research shows us that the pressures for nurses under COVID-19 are significant and likely long-lasting,” said Henry Drummond, PhD, MDiv, BA, RN, senior vice president, chief clinical officer at Cross Country Healthcare.
One of the biggest positive outcomes found during the survey was that 58 percent of the nurses surveyed agreed that telehealth should be a mainstay of care delivery. The onset of COVID-19 has brought telehealth back to the forefront for both hospitals and general practitioners. The use of telehealth-based services increased 50 percent in Q1 of 2020 compared to the same time frame in 2019. The increased implementation of virtual visits has become a promising technology for easing stress and mental fatigue.
What’s more, there are an increase in devices being used in nursing facilities that are allow for ease of use, and therefore, lower mental stress on nurses. The use of telemedicine has helped reduce the number of avoidable visits for emergency room nursing staffs. These types of advancements are helping ease the burden on the patient and the hospital staff, especially in lieu of current events.
While the positive impact of of telehealth-based services continues to emerge, so does the need for improvements to further help nursing staffs.
Finding the Right Technology
One of first hurdles is that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach for telehealth visits. Systems such as Zoom and FaceTime were implemented during the early days of COVID-19, however, for nurses this brings in patient-privacy concerns. There must be more than just a screen between the two parties, and the technology must be flexible to help with diagnosis.
There also needs to be a focus on patient security so the nursing staff can integrate care with the patients’ record in the hospital’s system.3
One of the temporary adjustments during COVID was to lighten regulations around using third party applications such as Zoom, Facetime, and Skype. Although these applications were necessary at the time to provide sufficient care to patients remotely, they also potentially opened vulnerability gaps to PHI.
Today, we are seeing these third-party applications make strides to better protecting PHI while also providing ease of use to both clinicians and their patients. Check over the HIPAA Compliance Datasheet for Zoom to see some of the newest improvements and regulations.
Even as these technologies improve, it’s still vital for nurses to be the first line of defense in protecting PHI. Make sure you are taking advantage of multi-factor authentication, using a VPN if connecting from a remote network, and of course working with your patient privacy team if you have any questions or concerns.
Integrating the Data Seamlessly
Probably the biggest factor that can aid nursing in the advancement of telehealth is the ability to integrate seamlessly with a hospital’s electronic health record (EHR) system. The ease of use, as stated earlier, is already a factor recognized by nurses, however, the flexibility and consistency of the system is something that must be balanced. The ability to incorporate telehealth with EHR systems is a make-or-break moment.
“It’s not enough to just offer a telephone number or link. It’s about training and support for everyone involved,” said Chad Anguilm, vice president of in-practice technology services at Medical Advantage.
The ability to pull a patient record correctly while on a remote call can be key in whether the patient is getting the best possible care. One of the biggest remaining questions is how a hospital’s EHR system and the patients will be supported after the health systems signs on to a telehealth call.
The demand for telehealth is one that is continuing to grow especially in the wake of the COVID pandemic. It is one that helps rural communities that may not have access to certain types of care or consultation. Integration with your hospital’s EHR system is also key for a seamless and functioning system, but also making sure being able to navigate through your system and track the correct data is, too, important. You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to learn more about any of our clinical/EHR solutions which can help support your new telehealth initiatives – whether it’s through patient privacy, integration and interoperability, or anything in between.