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Telehealth Nurses: Convenient Access to Healthcare
Any nurse who has spoken with a patient over the phone, has practiced telehealth nursing. Telehealth, or telemedicine, is not a new concept, but technological improvements such as audio and visual equipment, internet and computers have had a huge impact on the way nurses can interact remotely with patients. Although not considered a specialty, telehealth technology is the basis of telephone nurse triage.
What are the functions of the triage nurse and other nurses utilizing telemedicine?
Call center nurses and other telephone-based nurses are often the first point of contact when patients call in with their healthcare questions, especially after hours. A triage nurse’s role is to assess the patient’s condition, plan an intervention and make referrals as needed. All of this must be done without ever seeing the patient, but, instead, reading the patient’s tone of voice and emotional state. This takes an expert level of listening, empathy and communication skills.
Telehealth services, such as nurse triage, are used in the following ways:
Treatment Plans: Although making a diagnosis is not within triage protocols, it is possible to detect and document noticeable changes in a patient’s condition, perform pattern recognition and matching, as well as devise home treatment plans and follow-up appointments with a primary care physicians.
Crisis Intervention: When a patient calls in an emergency situation, a triage nurse must be prepared to respond quickly. From births, injuries and poisonings to rape and suicides, a call center is often the first point of contact. Patient’s with true medical emergencies can be assisted in contacting 911 and activating emergency services.
Monitoring and Follow-up: A growing number of triage nurses monitor home treatment interventions and educate patients in self-care and evaluation via audio and visual equipment, allowing patients to be treated without going back to the hospital. Upon discharge, the nurses are instructed as to the follow-up care plan devised by the doctor and call the patients to help them to heal comfortably and to detect any emergent symptoms early as to prevent complications and unnecessary ER visits.
Being “present” in telehealth
Telemedicine is the future of healthcare. Although the nurse in not physically present with the patient, they can still feel connected. In a 2013 study by Tuxbury, both nurses and patients were able to feel “presence” during their interaction. The study revealed that the presence experienced was an “authentic, therapeutic connection” that occurred between the nurse and patient during their call.
Other benefits of telehealth interventions include decreasing healthcare costs and increasing access to care. Many telemedicine venues are offering nurse triage for after hours calls and patient apps for ease of access. Telehealth nursing in an evolving field allowing benefit to patients, providers, and the healthcare system as a whole.
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