What is Virtual Nursing and what are its benefits?

10 months ago

Author: Dr. Bonnie Clipper

What is Virtual Nursing and what is a Virtual Nurse?

Virtual nursing is the process of monitoring a patient remotely via the use of a suite of cameras, microphones, and sensors by a virtual nurse. A Virtual Nurse is a registered nurse who is not on the care unit (who is offsite or virtual) using nursing practices to either oversee or support the direct patient care delivered by the onsite nurses. Functioning as an e-sitter, monitoring physiologic equipment, providing telehealth visits, chronic care or behavioral health coaching is not the function of virtual nursing.


What are 5 impacts of Virtual Nursing?

  1. Improved patient outcomes due to the presence of a dedicated virtual nurse who is able to utilize technology to keep eyes and ears on patients at all times. Data indicates that the improved outcomes notably include decreased readmissions and length of stay.
  2. Improved patient experience thanks to the support of virtual nurses evidence demonstrates a reduction in call light response times, a more thorough patient discharge and medication reconciliation experience. Perhaps most important is the improvement in HCAHPS scores, specifically the questions “Understood purpose of taking medications post discharge” and “Clear communication by nurses”.
  3. Improved patient safety– This outcome occurs mainly because dedicated support is a safer option when compared to an overextended, on site, direct care nurse doing rounds when they get the chance. The presence of a virtual nurse provides help to ensure that things aren’t missed or falling through the cracks, and data supports this by demonstrating a reduction in falls and a decreased response time to detect and intervene on clinical deterioration.
  4. Improved nurse satisfaction– Improved nurse satisfaction occurs due to the support provided by the virtual care nurses. The direct care nurses no longer have to spend time in rooms they aren’t needed in and instead can focus on the patients who require their attention. Specifically virtual nurses can offload the admission, discharge and transfer documentation, thus freeing up direct care nurses from this work. There are also loose correlations between nurse satisfaction and a decrease in nurse turnover, this is important because high nurse turnover rates are one of the key workforce challenges that we’re facing today.
  5. Improved new graduate nurse experience because onsite preceptors are also busy, the virtual nurse provides less tenured nurses with the ability to request a “preceptor on-demand” to assist them with problem solving, critically thinking through a problem or even providing the second verification for certain medications or blood products. 


What can Virtual Nursing do?

Virtual nursing can allow a very small number of people to monitor a much larger number of people. Virtual nursing can free up onsite staff who would have otherwise been running around to monitor patients. Virtual nursing can improve patient outcomes and safety. 

Additionally, virtual nursing can improve the nurse experience by taking significant strain off the on-site staff by freeing them up to pursue other responsibilities and lowering the overall load on them. This, in turn, can help reduce nurse turnover by making their workload less overwhelming and making their jobs more “doable”.

What can’t Virtual Nursing do?

Virtual nursing is not the same as Telehealth or virtual care coaching and does not provide care or wellness visits to patients remotely. Virtual nursing can’t do anything about other no-value added tasks, such as material gathering and report writing. Virtual nurses are an incredibly helpful resource to support the onsite direct care team, but do not provide direct “hands-on” care themselves.

In summary

Virtual nursing provides positive outcomes and experiences for both patients and nurses. Some of the positive patient outcomes that typically come with virtual nursing are improved patient safety and experience. This is thanks to dedicated monitoring and focused attention. Virtual nursing is not the solution to all of our workplace challenges, however, it is a massive step forward on the journey of care transformation.

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