Hospitals 'learning as we go' with virtual nursing

Health systems are working out the kinks with virtual nursing, with some hospitals discovering the care model doesn't work for all its hoped-for uses, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Philadelphia-based Penn Medicine, for instance, discovered that having in-person nurses move the virtual nursing stations around cut into the time savings from the technology, according to the May 14 story.

"Everyone is trying to figure out how to use the technology to improve patient care and safety, and we're all learning as we go," Penn Chief Medical Information Officer Bill Hanson, MD, told the newspaper.

State inspectors cited Jefferson Abington (Pa.) Hospital in March for having the stations in behavioral health inpatient rooms, where the 8-foot-long power cords were a safety risk for potentially suicidal patients, the news outlet reported. The hospital removed the carts and went back to using in-person sitters. A spokesperson for Philadelphia-based Jefferson Health told the news outlet that the health system follows national guidelines for virtual sitters in psychiatric units.

Penn Medicine also found that virtual sitters, who monitor several patients at a time, weren't a good fit for some patients who were already confused and disoriented and became agitated by the disembodied voices, according to the story. "Everyone is thinking the technology is going to create such efficiency. We bought into the hype," Ann Huffenberger, RN, director of the Penn Center for Connected Care, told the Inquirer. "It didn't really work out for us in that manner."

The health system may also move to wall-mounted virtual nursing screens, as troubleshooting connectivity issues, changing batteries and locating carts can be a time drain, the newspaper reported. But the mounting will require regulatory approval and construction in rooms that are in use.

Jefferson Health also found that patients prefer when virtual nursing units can be turned toward the wall so it doesn't feel like the nurses are always watching, according to the story. Programmers also implemented a virtual "knock" so nurses don't just pop up on the screen.

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