Part 1 of a 2-part series on telemedicine
One of the primary goals of healthcare reform is to expand health care access to various populations that have long been underserved. These include minorities, rural communities, the poor, and the previously uninsured. Obviously great challenges lie ahead, as large numbers of people begin to seek access to primary care clinicians. Telemedicine promises to be an important tool in meeting these needs.
Definitions of telemedicine and telenursing
Telemedicine is defined by the American Telemedicine Association as the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications, to improve patients’ health status. It is not considered to be a separate medical specialty, but rather a means of delivering care efficiently.
The term telenursing refers to the use of technology for delivering nursing care from a distance. As technologies like multimedia, imaging, and telecommunications have advanced and become more affordable, telenursing has become more and more feasible. Its primary benefits are reduced costs, improved quality of care, and the ability to see more patients more efficiently.
Applications in nursing
Telenursing promises to make nurses more ubiquitous and to expand nursing’s involvement in primary care. The applications of telemedicine for nursing include the following:
- Patient consultations. These can range from a simple follow-up session after a procedure, to patient education as part of a disease management program, to more involved consultations that involve diagnosis and treatment. The tools used may include audio and still or live images to facilitate communication between patient and provider. The Internet allows patients to connect from home, or they might visit a remote clinic staffed by nurses to connect with a physician farther away. Consulting via telemedicine connects patients to medical resources that don’t exist in their communities.
- Remote monitoring. Devices used by the patient at home can collect and transmit medical data to clinicians for interpretation, so a medical intervention can be planned. These technologies can supplement or, in some instances, replace home nursing visits. When nurses are monitoring patients remotely, they can eliminate travel times and see more patients each day. A large body of evidence suggests that telenursing produces outcomes equal or superior to those seen with traditional clinical encounters.
Education and career opportunities
Telenursing is a sort of frontier within the nursing field, as its full potential has yet to be explored. So what does it take to become a telemedicine professional? From the clinical aspect, you’ll use the same skills and competencies required by traditional bedside nursing. You’ll still be performing nursing assessments and taking on the role of patient advocate. It’s just that technology adds another piece to the puzzle – you should be skilled with healthcare informational technology (HIT). It’s an added bonus if you can help to design or refine technology-based delivery models, in addition to feeling comfortable with existing and emerging technologies. For this reason, a degree in nursing informatics is useful for those wanting a career in telemedicine. Online nursing programs like those offered by American Sentinel University can help you get the informatics skills you need.
Telenursing also offers many opportunities for those with strong nursing leadership skills who want to move into administrative roles. They can oversee or design telemedicine programs, maintain medical data, and supervise other nurses.
As telemedicine continues to evolve and become an accepted part of the healthcare system, opportunities for nurses will expand at every level.
Next week: The role of nursing leadership in telemedicine.