Telemedicine and Nursing Care in Intensive Care Units
The healthcare industry continues to evolve as we find new ways to leverage technology to provide better care for patients. One of the fastest growing trends in healthcare right now is telemedicine – especially in the intensive care unit.
The idea of caring for patients without even being in the same room as them might sound odd to some, but the overall reaction from nurses is surprisingly positive. Since technology will inevitably have an increased role in healthcare, it’s important for nurses to keep an open mind about telemedicine and the opportunities it presents.
What is Telemedicine?
According to the American Telemedicine Association, telemedicine is “the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve patients’ health status.” The first documented study of telemedicine in the ICU was conducted 25 years ago where telemedicine consultations were used to assist with the care of 395 patients in the ICU of a 100-bed hospital. The study found that telemedicine improved patient care and television consultations had a greater clinical impact than telephone consultations.
The way this works is that a tele-ICU system staffed with critical care nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and additional support staff operates 24/7 on-call. Each tele-ICU registered nurse (eRN) is typically responsible for 30 to 40 patients. There are currently around 45 tele-ICUs in the U.S. that connect over 200 hospitals with more than 6,000 beds.
How Nurses Are Responding to the Rise of Telemedicine in the ICU
According to an online survey of over 1,200 nurses from the American Journal of Critical Care, around 79% of nurses believe that tele-ICU systems improve patient care and about 75% believe it improves job performance. The feedback from nurses overall has been very supportive and encouraging, which demonstrates a clear need for telemedicine in the ICU.
Feedback on telemedicine from ICU nurses:
- 66% found improvements in collaboration
- 63% saw increased speed in work performance
- 60% noted improvements in communication
- 60% saw improvement in nursing assessments
However, not all of the survey findings were positive. The most significant barriers for telemedicine include staff attitudes towards telemedicine, technical difficulties with audio and video, and a lingering belief among some nurses that telemedicine actually interferes with patient care.
While there are still issues that need addressing, telemedicine is here to stay and we expect it to continue to improve patient care and provide greater opportunities for nurses with diverse skill sets.
The Biggest Benefit: Applying Multiple Specialties and Skills at Once
Nurses have always had a critical role in hospitals – assessing vital signs, administering medication, providing emotional support, and being the go-to person patients count on for virtually everything during their hospital stay. Today, hospitals want nurses to expand their skills and expertise even more.
The biggest benefit of telemedicine in the ICU is the ability to have so many nurses with different specialties and backgrounds on-call at all times. Tele-ICU systems provide a second set of eyes with a possibly different point of view, allowing patients to get better care without having to wait on the schedules of multiple specialists to line up perfectly.
As a nurse with specialized skills, telemedicine also expands your career opportunities. Many nurses love helping patients and find it too rewarding to walk away from, but they cannot always stay in the hospital environment for one reason or another. Telemedicine gives nurses the chance to do the work they love without having to deal with some of the things they don’t enjoy when working inside a hospital.
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