Virtual nurses on duty at Topeka hospital
When David Appelhanz had his gallbladder removed earlier this year, part of his care team came through a screen.
He says it scared him the first time he heard the voice of the "virtual nurse" ask to enter his room at Stormont Vail, but he and his wife Diane quickly came to appreciate the addition.
"The nurse was right there and you could talk to her like she was right there in the room," David said.
Nurse manager Tracy Duran, RN, said the virtual nurses are added members to the care team, meant to support the work of the existing bedside nurses and staff.
"This is not taking the bedside nurse away from the bedside but really focuses on the electronic portion of things, and is just another eyes and ears for the nurse and for the patient," she explained.
Stormont added the Virtual Nurse this year to 48 of its 586 beds. A group of live, experienced nurses, located in the hospital, are connected to patients via video link and special software. The camera is turned away from the room until the nurse "knocks" to come in.
Patients and families can call the nurse, too. They're encouraged to tap a button on a touchscreen if they need updates, or to ask questions.
David and Diane said the response when they needed assistance was instantaneous.
"A family friend had brought in some snacks for him, and he had some diet restrictions, and actually my children and grandchildren were there at this time and I said let's just ask the virtual nurse if this is okay," Diane said.
Thanks to the high-resolution camera, Stormont is finding the virtual nurse helpful in improving efficiency in giving medications that need a second sign off.
"We've done studies - it takes anywhere from three minutes to 20 minutes to go find another nurse because they're busy too," Duran said. "We can utilize this system to call to that virtual nurse, and she can come in and look at that medication and co-sign that medication with the nurse, and that just saves the patient time. They're getting meds more timely."
David and Diane also used the virtual nurse for the discharge process, which they found to be more complete than experiences they've had on prior hospital visits.
"(The virtual nurse) had enough time to go over the information, and it gave you the ability to ask questions if you had any questions," Diane said.
"It was so quick and easy - and when you've been in a hospital for three days, you really want to get out of here!" David said.
Duran said nurses, too, were worried that people would feel the addition of virtual nurses would make people feel less cared for. Instead, she said people are asking more questions. Duran said that could be because bedside nurses are trained to multitask, so patients don't want to feel like they're being a bother. Connecting through a screen, she said, brings in a nurse who is focused on their question, and not any other tasks in the room.
"It frees the beside nurse to do what she does best which is take care of the patient," Duran said. "This is an addition to the team, not a subtraction."
Stormont is the first hospital in Kansas to implement the virtual nurse technology.