Telehealth and the Future of Grad Nursing

by Hallie Bensinger, DNP, APN, FNP-BC | October 21, 2021

Telemedicine has been in use for years in healthcare practice, but the COVID-19 pandemic brought it to the forefront of patient care. Previously, telemedicine was most commonly used to evaluate prison populations and in extremely rural areas, such as the Alaska wilderness. More recently, and especially in the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine has enabled remote management of digital diagnostic information.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made telemedicine an important part of medical care. Before the pandemic, phone consultations were either poorly covered, or not covered at all, by insurance, except for mental health care visits. Telemedicine is now more widely available, and covered by insurance―and federal and state governments have worked to reduce barriers to virtual care.

While some elements of telemedicine may fade from prevalence once we are past the COVID-19 pandemic, certain aspects are likely here to stay. Intuitively, remote visits are more convenient than in-person visits, so there are fewer no-shows, and it’s easier to stick to a treatment plan. Telehealth also saves money, time, and other resources. For example, patients save time commuting and healthcare providers have extra room space with virtualized care. When done right, telehealth-based coordination of care between multiple specialties can also be streamlined and improved. And, as acceptance and reimbursement for telehealth grows, telemedicine will replace a significant portion of office visits.

However, without a dedicated telehealth training curriculum, graduate nursing students face challenges to implementing and supporting a telehealth-enabled practice. Since telehealth medicine is still relatively new, few faculty are properly trained in the best ways to use telemedicine (or how to teach telemedicine to others). For example, there are a few issues that should be considered when deciding on when to use in-person care versus telehealth. 

First of all, applying in-person patient practices to virtual health may create a substandard experience for patients because remote care creates challenges, like difficulty establishing eye contact or reading body language. Using telehealth in a manner identical to stand-in for in-person medical visits may therefore create a barrier to future use and proper role modeling. There are also cases in which it would be better to use in-person care, if available, compared to telehealth―for example, if a patient has sensory problems or trouble ambulating. It’s important to be able to ask all of the right questions and to know when patients would be best suited using telehealth versus in-person care. Furthermore, providers must also be able to interpret results and triage patients who may need more intensive assessments. 

Some of the principles of telemedicine which overlap with in-person clinical skills were difficult to teach pre-pandemic because of workflow issues, such as the coordination of communication and accessibility to information. These principles include basic things like therapeutic communication skills to guide the discussion; picking up on patient non-verbal cues from the patient, and collaborating with the patient on a plan. Telehealth can help healthcare providers improve their understanding of these challenges.

So, how can educators prepare students for an increasingly virtual world? Here are a few solutions:

Incorporating virtual learning and simulation into nurse practitioner curricula. 

Virtual learning and simulation can be applied in the graduate nursing curriculum to improve nurses’ conceptual understanding, skills, and core competencies. i-Human Patients by Kaplan is a tool that allows faculty to connect with students in a mutual way to promote and strengthen these areas.

Allowing students to test out of classes and modules they don’t need to focus on what they do need - i.e. telemedicine and technology training. 

Graduate nursing students bring to their work a unique set of skills, knowledge, and competencies. Students should be able to skip classes and modules that are not relevant to them or that they have already mastered. This ensures that nurses’ graduate curricula will cover topics that they need to develop the full suite of skills, knowledge, and core competencies needed to be a successful healthcare professional. i-Human Patients provides educators with an excellent way to evaluate students’ performance skills from things like therapeutic communication and physical assessment to critical thinking and clinical judgement.

More emphasis on technology training in graduate nursing curriculum. 

The trends of using telehealth in the pandemic have changed the landscape of healthcare, with more emphasis being placed on virtual health going forward. To better meet the needs of future patients in a virtual care-enabled world, nurses must have more hands-on experience with the technology involved in telehealth. i-Human Patients allows students to analyze patient charts, obtain a history and perform physical assessments, diagnose and develop a plan of care. Students receive immediate feedback on their performance as well as review of expert, relevant evidence-based content. The depth of this feedback may often be greater than students will obtain face-to-face because virtual instructors are not limited by time. 

Standardization of user interfaces so students and faculty moving from one health institution to another need not relearn technology functions. 

One of the greatest frustrations for healthcare providers, which contributes to burnout, is using inconvenient software in the clinic. Having to constantly learn new software can detract from the provision of high-quality care, so it’s important to ensure that user interfaces are uniform across institutions. This also ensures that healthcare workers can focus on treating the patient rather than constantly learning new platforms.

Emphasis on improved communication and telemedicine blind spots and pitfalls that are technology independent. 

Communication is key in obtaining patient histories, which are the most important aspect of medical treatment. Identifying deficiencies and challenges in telemedicine that do not stem from technology can help improve the standard of in-person as well as remote care.

 

To learn more about ways Kaplan can support telemedicine in graduate nursing education, please reach out to your regional representative or visit our website to request an i-Human Patients demo today.

Dr. Bensinger is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over ten years of teaching experience at the undergraduate and graduate level.  She specializes in women's health.  She has served as an Assistant Professor and BSN/MSN Program director.  Her passion is in the area of teaching critical thinking and clinical reasoning.  She joined Kaplan in 2017 and enjoys working with faculty to promote student success.

See more posts by Hallie Bensinger, DNP, APN, FNP-BC