The COVID-19 pandemic rapidly accelerated the adoption of telehealth medical care. According to the journal Nurse Educator, pre-pandemic estimates of annual telehealth utilization anticipated 17% growth per year; however, given the uptake of services in 2020, it is now expected that 30% of all visits will occur virtually.
Pivoting to telehealth services provided an opportunity for continuity of care, but many nurses were not ready for the transition. Although nurses play an integral role in facilitating telehealth services, nurse education programs have been slow to catch up. Many programs do not equip nurses with adequate telehealth instruction, and graduates enter the workforce without the necessary competencies and skills. Because of this gap in learning, nurse educators will play a key role in modernizing nurse education programs and readying nurses for the rise in telehealth.
What Skills Does Telehealth Nursing Require?
Telehealth nursing requires nurses to pull from many skill sets and sometimes fill multiple roles. For example, "a nurse might review the data delivered via the remote patient monitoring, then collaborate with the patient's PCP and finally have a video conferencing session with the patient to coordinate care," notes The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing.
To do this, nurses must have expanded critical-thinking and decision-making skills and the technical know-how to operate the various systems and technologies. Educators increasingly utilize the Four P's of Telehealth Framework to help nurses and advanced practice registered nurses (RNs) prepare for these experiences. This model walks learners through designing an effective telehealth program that "aligns with both curriculum development and clinical practice and can be transitioned to providers from varying professions," notes Nurse Educator. The framework can identify existing telehealth competencies, pinpoint gaps and assist in developing targeted knowledge, skills and abilities.
The Four P's process is broken down into four phases:
- Planning: identifying the information and requirements to implement a telehealth program
- Preparing: establishing the program
- Providing: delivering care via telehealth
- Performance evaluation: analyzing data and revising the program as needed
In addition, excellent communication skills — both verbal and written — are critical for nurses working in telehealth. They must routinely convey information to patients and ensure their understanding — all while navigating potential technical issues. For this reason, they may benefit from incorporating the teach-back method into telehealth visits to verify patient comprehension and maintain quality care, especially during patient education.
How Can Nurse Educators Develop Telehealth Competencies in Students?
Historically, nurses have had to acquire telehealth competencies on the job. Many nurse educators and organizations now recognize the importance of beginning telehealth education earlier. There has been a concerted effort to standardize telehealth competencies across nursing curricula, from baccalaureate programs to advanced practice nursing. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing includes explicit telehealth education in Essentials, a manual outlining core competencies that guide professional nursing education.
While Essentials offers a framework for nurse educators to develop telehealth coursework and instruction, curriculum development is complex, and most educators benefit from additional support. Students in The University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in Nursing Education online program participate in a course called Curriculum Development and Evaluation. They dive into coursework structure and its various applications to nursing education.
Besides updating content, nurse educators should also foster hands-on experience. Conducting simulation exercises in the classroom and coordinating clinical experiences can reinforce telehealth proficiencies.
According to most indicators, telehealth is here to stay and will encompass a larger share of all future healthcare services. From entry-level to advanced practice providers, nurses must be able to offer the same high-quality care through remote technology as they do in person. Nurse educators who develop targeted learning opportunities allow students to gain these abilities and further the evolution of telehealth-based care.
Learn more about UTA's online MSN in Nursing Education program.
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