How clinicians, bedside nurses are adapting to virtual nurses

The healthcare landscape is becoming more digital. Transitions to virtual and digital care are not just because technology is advancing but also to accommodate for the rapidly changing workforce among nurses and other hospital staff.

Beth Cloyd, RN, is the chief nursing officer and vice president of clinical services at Banyan, a healthcare information technology company that focuses on virtual nurses. Along with her more than 35-year career in leadership positions, Ms. Cloyd also has experience as a nurse.

She has been influential in hospital EHR implementation and managing staff relationships as technology shifts operations.

Below, Ms. Cloyd discusses the influences virtual nurses have had on hospitals and health systems.

Editor’s note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Question: How has the introduction of virtual nurses affected hospital staff? Do providers compete with virtual nurses?

Beth Cloyd: The introduction of virtual nurses has had a tremendous impact on hospital staff, mainly in terms of satisfaction and safety. The quality of care continues to go up and readmission are decreasing because of virtual nurses. If you talk to nurses in the hospital, they will all agree that they can’t leave patients at the bedside, but they also have added responsibilities. Virtual nurses help bedside nurses stay with patients.

We have to look at staffing models in a way we haven’t before because we can’t apply the same solutions to the problems today. I think this is where virtual nursing comes into play. Virtual nurses allow for flexibility from members on the team in order to increase touch points with patients and families. Additionally, there has been increases in Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems and satisfaction scores.

The change process is always important; however, nurses don’t always like change. There isn’t a competition with bedside nurses and the virtual nurse. These nurses understand the need for virtual nurses. With the communication that the virtual nurse provides, it seamlessly integrates into workflows. The biggest success is how you manage the change process with nurses on the floor. When you implement virtual nursing, a big part it is virtual nurses and bedside nurses working together to develop process steps and define the roles and responsibilities so there is a consensus and agreement.

Q: Looking at an administration level, have virtual nurses impacted staff turnover or satisfaction?

BC: It is important to understand what is happening with the shortage of nurses across the country and this is more severe in the hospital setting. The shortage is due to job opportunities being open outside of the hospital sector. This will continue to impact the level of resources at hospitals.

Second, we have to look at the nursing workforce. The average age of nurse is around 50 years old and as the workload goes up these nurses are retiring and moving to less stressful settings. Third, for new nurses coming into the profession, the turnover is high. The introduction for virtual nursing can be a key solution to solve this nursing employment challenges.

New nurses have shown some of the biggest support for virtual nurses. When these new nurses get to mentor with a virtual nurse, there is an added layer of comfort and safety. And it’s not that the bedside nurses don’t do that, but virtual nurses provide another level of support. We have to continue to retain the new nurses and virtual nurses are a solution. As hospitals continue to have financial pressures, these new nurses will be critical.

Also, when we talk about the ages of nurses, we also have to look to how we can retain the experienced nurses. The virtual nurses are designed to be filled by experienced nurses so the nurses looking to retire can come into these new roles.

Virtual nurses are an additional support that gives other nurses more time to spend with patients and families. The virtual nurse can take over parts of the care process that doesn’t require hands-on services, planning, medication adherence, leading to faster response times.

Q: What is a common statement or thought you hear from nurses, patients about virtual nurses? Is there support?

BC: For our patients, we educate them about virtual nurses and let them know it will be a nurse on their TV. So, when we go into hospitals there is a level of skepticism. We have nurses that say it’s the best thing that has happened and gives them more time to take care of patients. Another nurse said that the virtual nurses take up time for nurses to do what they do best — patient care. One of our new nurses said that she always has an experienced nurse to do double checking and that she feels safer.

Patients and families enjoy the fact that they always have someone to discuss treatment plans at any time day or night. The virtual nurse can meet with patients and families at all times of the day. One patient called for her nurse and when the nurse arrived the patient requested the virtual nurse. Patients who have to return to the hospital also ask for the virtual nurse.

Q: What is the No. 1 misconception people have about virtual nurses?

BC: I think we have seen virtual nurses emerging in the healthcare space, but it hasn’t been in the hospital setting. It takes a little bit to wrap your head around how a virtual care provider would work among other hospital providers.

The other area of misperception is that patients don’t feel the warmth or caring from a nurse that’s virtual. But what we have found is that when a bedside nurse comes in with five tasks the patient can sense the time crunch. While the virtual nurse can’t provide physical contact, they can see that the nurse has empathy through their eyes. The virtual nurse is completely focused on the patient and not doing any other tasks.

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