'Virtual everything' is our future, says Saint Luke's nurse leader

The concept of virtual nursing is not new; it was introduced more than 20 years ago. But healthcare systems are circling back to it — launching innovative programs across the country that are fueled by machine-learning-enabled platforms.

The virtual nursing program at Saint Luke's in Kansas City, Mo. — designed in 2018 and first implemented in 2022 by Susie Krug, BSN, chief nursing officer at the system's East Hospital in Lee's Summit, Mo. — has expanded from one 33-bed unit to 550 beds in eight hospitals. There are slightly more than 1,200 beds in hospitals throughout the healthcare system

Virtual nursing at Saint Luke's has proven itself time and again by reducing administrative burden, which allows nurses to spend more time at the bedside. The unit, located in Saint Luke's technology hub in downtown Kansas City, operates on a telehealth platform and is staffed almost entirely by nurses. 

The virtual nursing team provides consistent coverage for patients, even when floor nurses are busy, and patients learn about the program when they are admitted to the hospital.

"It's a new model of care," Jennifer Ball, BSN, RN, director of virtual care for the health system, said in a hospital news release. "It's there to [help] the nurses as well as the patients. Virtual everything is going to be our future."

Ms. Krug told Becker's that patients continue to report increased satisfaction with their care at Saint Luke's because they are able to reach a nurse  — at the touch of a call button — to answer questions within a minute or so. Virtual nurses are also able to review healthcare plans with the patient and members of their family and facilitate admissions and discharges.

In fact, improvements in the healthcare system's discharge processes have been one of the greatest wins to come out of the virtual nursing program. The process can get started by night nurses hours before the patient is set to be discharged. 

Saint Luke's reported discharging patients an average of two hours earlier than before the virtual nursing program was implemented, Ms. Krug said, adding she regularly takes calls from hospitals around the country that are looking for more information about how Saint Luke's scaled its virtual nursing program.


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