Bon Secours Mercy Health pilots virtual nursing at 3 sites, looks to expand to 48 hospitals

Cincinnati-based Bon Secours Mercy Health is piloting virtual nursing at three hospitals as it studies how it might expand the technology to all of its 48 hospitals.

The pilots are at Mercy Health — St. Rita's Medical Center in Lima, Ohio, Bon Secours — Southside Medical Center in Petersburg, Va., and Mercy Health — Fairfield (Ohio) Hospital.

The program at St. Rita's is one year into a two-year pilot and uses a platform and virtual nurses from virtual care company Banyan Medical, spanning three units and 72 beds. Nurses beam in through televisions and see patients via in-room cameras, helping with admissions, discharges, patient education and medication verification. That program has added home health nurses and plans to deploy care managers as well.

"Not only were we getting familiar with the technology aspects of virtual nursing, but also the relationship aspects of the relationship between the bedside nurse and the virtual nurse and how do you do handoff? How do you communicate? How do you come as a united team with the patient?" Ramona Cheek, MSN, RN, vice president of nursing transformation and innovation, told Becker's.

The second pilot, lasting three weeks, took place on the innovation unit at Bon Secours — Southside Medical Center in Petersburg, Va. It is a collaboration between Bon Secours Mercy Health remote care subsidiary Conduit Health Partners and telehealth platform Nurse Disrupted that focuses on improving the admissions process via iPads.

The health system also plans to start a third pilot soon at Mercy Health — Fairfield (Ohio) Hospital that will last 12 weeks and employ the system's own nurses in a virtual fashion.

"This is an attempt to start addressing some of that want for flexibility," Ms. Cheek said. "Nurses will get the option of working at the bedside and being a bedside nurse or that they can be a virtual nurse and work remotely. So we're testing to see how that works." 

Early results have been positive, Ms. Cheek said. "For the Banyan pilot, we did see a difference in nurse satisfaction. We see a difference in nurses' perception that they are really doing more as far as workload, their work follows more of what requires a nursing license. So they don't really feel like they're serving in a support role but really having an influence on direct nursing care.

"With Southside, nurses saw that as a real support and we're able to accept patients faster. Because they were able to instead of waiting until everything was off their plate to accept a patient, they were able to accept a patient on their unit, turn it over to that Conduit nurse or that virtual nurse to start the admission process, and they were able to multitask a little bit more efficiently and effectively. So we saw that really decreased their moral distress and their workload."

Along the way, Bon Secours Mercy Health will be relying on a virtual care dashboard with data on patient outcomes, nursing satisfaction, productivity and financial metrics. The health system also wants to study how it might incorporate different virtual platforms into one, not only nursing but also, for instance, telesitting, telepsychiatry and teleneurology.

Future expansion plans will depend on the results of the three pilots. "While we're about 50 hospitals, the hospitals are all different," Ms. Cheek said. "There are different markets that need different things with different cultures. So it might not be a one-size-fits-all. But we will be able to discover what works best in what market and what site based on that information that we have. 

"The problem is that everyone has gotten on the virtual nurse bandwagon, but the definition of virtual nursing changes, and what they're doing changes, and what you're looking at changes, and the outcome can be different depending on the different markets. So we really want to understand that process."

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