With seemingly everything in the past decade going "virtual" – from paying bills to booking travel – it’s no surprise that healthcare has joined in the digital trend. With the Baby Boomer generation reaching their senior years and the Affordable Care Act putting health issues top-of-mind, vast new numbers of Americans will be seeking even more healthcare advice and treatment in 2017 and beyond.
At the same time, advances in Information Technology have enabled healthcare professionals to take full advantage of virtual access to share information, consult with other stakeholders and assist their patients.
Defining Virtual Healthcare
Virtual healthcare is an umbrella term for the integration of several kinds of services and technology. What they share in common is an instant, interactive approach to patient/practitioner communication and an opportunity for nurses to become more involved in patient coordination and care, as well as in the design and implementation of a new, digital workflow.
Virtual Healthcare comprises several categories:
- Electronic medical records enable information sharing among practitioners within an institution like a hospital, or between different organizations, like clinics, sub-acute centers and insurance companies. These digitized records may contain any combination of patient background information, images, diagnostics, test results, check-up records and more.
- Telemedicine began as basic telephone or radio communication between patient and medical staff, and became a recognized solution for patients living in remote areas where hospitals or clinics are not conveniently located. Today, the term comprises high-tech solutions including interactive online contact via texting, Skype calls or email; and data transfer technology such as that found in Healthcare Information Systems that can be shared among staff members.
- Consumer information can describe access to health facts on popular websites like the Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Health and Human Services; the use of hospital or clinic websites to book appointments or learn more about doctors and services; or connections to personal health records such as the "MyChart" offered by the Medical College of Wisconsin.
- Mobile Health takes advantage of the widespread use of mobile devices like MP3 players, smart phones and tablets to facilitate home monitoring, diagnosis and treatment option, and the fast delivery of important public health information. This technology has gained fast acceptance in low-income nations as a viable alternative to brick-and-mortar clinics.
Impact on Nursing
Can "virtual nursing" be that far behind as patients increasingly accept mobile and instant healthcare services? In 2010, NurseZone writer Christina Orlovsky noted that Hawaii had become the first U.S. state to allow patient email and video-chat access to 150 participating physicians via the state’s Medical Service Association. Joyce Sensmeier, RN-BC, said in the same that one of the top trends "will be the involvement of nursing professionals in system analysis, design, selection, implementation and optimization of information technology."
Studies in virtual healthcare can also take the form of various text-based instruction resources complemented by hands-on training in your selected technology. Following your training you may earn an associate, baccalaureate or a master degree. You may qualify to earn credentials from an organization like the American Health Information Management Association in such disciplines as Registered Health Information Administrator, Certified Coding Associate, and Certified Health Data Analyst.
Meet "Elizabeth" the Virtual Nurse
The next generation of virtual nursing may have already arrived. In November 2011, SmartPlanet reported that Northeastern University had developed a computer-generated nurse – dubbed Elizabeth – and created a clinical trial based on hospital patients invited to interact with her during the discharge process.
Elizabeth was programmed to greet patients by name, explain the discharge process and even engage in small talk like "So, are you a Red Sox fan?" The patient answered Elizabeth via a series of touch-pad choices on the computer screen. (If the patient was stuck on an answer, he was directed to contact a human staff member for help.)
So was the Pixar-like interactive nurse a success? The research said yes. The university reported that patients described themselves as more at ease with Elizabeth because they didn’t feel rushed or talked down to. Participants in the clinical trial who met Elizabeth more accurately completed their health information than they had using a standard electronic questionnaire.
The Human Touch goes Virtual
Elizabeth was an interesting experiment, but she will not replace the true interaction that is established by the care, consideration and commitment of real nurses.
The opportunities tied to virtual healthcare range from working as online consultants to designing hospital web pages, contributing to social media posts and conducting video calls with far-flung patients or colleagues.
Variety and flexibility in duties is also a perk of nursing in the virtual environment. As a nurse, your immersion into the virtual healthcare world can take you entirely online, or become a hybrid of digital and face-to-face encounters. For the nurse who is comfortable with both people and technology, and eager to expand her skills, virtual healthcare can become the "best of both worlds" choice.
Start your educational path with Anna Maria College Online and join the growing field nurses working in virtual healthcare today. Registered nurses who earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing through Anna Maria’s convenient online platform take the first step to being a part of one of the most exciting trends in today’s healthcare landscape. Start earning your place today!