The COVID-19 pandemic forced healthcare systems to rapidly convert from traditional in-person visits to telehealth, virtual visits. Payers and healthcare professionals will reexamine best practices post-pandemic. Nurses will continue to be change agents to improve the digital health experience for patients.

What is Telehealth?

Telehealth — sometimes called telemedicine — involves delivering healthcare services, education or information to patients from a distance. Telehealth includes electronic communication, video chat and remote monitoring. Telepsychiatry is a subset of telemedicine using a wide range of remote mental health services.

How can Telehealth Work in the Real World?

Consider how technology might have saved this woman’s life:

A 25-year-old woman had a single episode of low-grade fever and slight nausea. Three days later, she felt weak and short of breath with activity. Her oxygen saturation read 99%. During her 9:30 p.m. telehealth visit, her nurse practitioner (NP) suspected COVID and sent her a home test kit. The NP sent electronic prescriptions for nebulizer treatments, rescue inhaler, and several over-the-counter vitamins. The woman used an app to arrange a pharmacy delivery at midnight. Over the next 10 days, she sent daily electronic messages to her NP and had four additional telehealth visits for complications. She did test positive, but with the help of technology, she managed to stay out of the hospital.

What Are Three Main Advantages of Telehealth?

Telehealth provides several advantages: cutting treatment costs, improving access and timeliness of care, and identifying problems earlier.

  1. Cuts treatment costs. Keeping patients out of the hospital frees up beds, reduces staff workload and significantly reduces patient and payer costs. Even complex treatments such as CAR T-Cell Therapy are moving from inpatient to outpatient due to telehealth.
  2. Improves Access. Telehealth offers instant access to healthcare team members. Patients in rural areas often have limited access to healthcare services and specialists, with long wait times. Through technology, providers can quickly review medical data or images anywhere in the world.
  3. Earlier problem identification. Wearables or artificial intelligence (AI) systems continuously monitor the patient’s condition and alert the care team. For example, the Sepsis Prediction and Optimization of Therapy, or SPOT AI, monitors the patient’s labs, vital signs and other information constantly. The algorithm alerts staff in the control room, who transmit that data to the bedside nurse for earlier assessment.

What Steps Can Nurses Take to Help Patients to Use Technology?

Technology only works if the user has the equipment and the know-how to use it. Nurses have a key role in assessing a patient’s willingness and ability to use technology. Here are just a few nursing interventions to empower and teach patients how to use telehealth.

  1. Assess Abilities. First, find out if they have a smartphone, tablet or computer and if they know how to use it — direct patients to online tutorials. Nurses may call the patient to help them access their portal or video appointment. If patients have an in-person visit, them teach how to use their portal.
  2. Active Listening. Nurses using telehealth become experts at noticing even the slightest change in the patient’s communication, voice, appearance or surroundings. They specialize in active listening and gathering more information before giving a response.
  3. Liaison. Nurses often serve as liaisons between the patient/caregiver and provider and share data with other team members and specialists in real-time. They may obtain a history and self-recorded information before the telehealth visit or manage non-urgent cases to allow their physician colleagues to focus on critical patients.
  4. Encourage wearables. Patients and their caregivers may not be aware of the technology that can monitor and track personal health data outside the hospital. Devices like smartwatches can monitor pulse and oxygen levels, follow heart rhythm and sleep patterns. Other devices constantly monitor real-time blood glucose. Unique pill bottle cap timers can help improve medication adherence by sending alarms and alerts that verify whether the bottle has been opened.

Nurses will continue to have a critical role in the evolution of telehealth. Not only will they need to incorporate technology into their nursing care, but they will need to refine their non-touch assessment skills and communication techniques.

Learn more about Eastern Michigan University’s Online RN to BSN program.


American Medical Association: Telehealth Implementation Playbook

American Psychiatric Association: What is Telepsychiatry?

HCA Develops Artificial Intelligence Tool for Early Sepsis Detection

Telehealth transformation: COVID-19 and the rise of virtual care

5 Tech Trends Changing the Field of Nursing

2020: Emerging Technology in Global Nursing Care