Baptist Memphis Begins Virtual Nurse Pilot Program to Help Support Bedside Nurses

Baptist Memorial-Hospital Memphis became the first hospital in Memphis to utilize virtual nursing when it launched its pilot program for a unit-level embedded virtual nurse care delivery model in the 2 East and 3 South units on Tuesday, Feb. 13. The TeleHealth department developed the virtual nurse program with support from the Baptist Memorial Health Care Foundation.

Virtual nursing takes advantage of technology to help meet patient needs and is expected to add a layer of support for bedside nurses, as well as strengthen quality and safety management. It will also provide additional opportunities for experienced nurses who may be considering retirement.

“The virtual nurse role will serve as an innovative adjunct to on-site hospital-based nurses by performing or assisting with tasks that do not require physical contact, are important to high-quality care, and are time-consuming for the bedside nurse,” said Meredith Palfrey, Virtual Services program manager.

Stacy Hammett, TeleHealth service line administrator, said that patients who have had a virtual nurse have loved it. “They think it’s very interesting and innovative and feel like they’re getting some dedicated one-on-one attention. Even older patients are very receptive to it,” said Stacy.

Virtual nurses work from a centralized site, leveraging remote-controlled robotic technology, along with access to the electronic health record (EHR). The use of a remote-controlled robot allows the virtual nurse to establish a “physical” presence on the unit, with the ability to move mostly independently around the unit to hear, talk and interact with both staff members and patients.

Some duties of virtual nurses include sharing discharge plans with patients, completing admission assessments, providing education for heart failure and chronic kidney disease patients, and doing chart reviews to look for missed or late care and opportunities for care progression. Virtual nurses are able to complete these jobs with focused attention, providing high-quality time with patients and support for bedside nurses.

“We hypothesize that sharing responsibility for care progression will assure quality of care remains high, barriers to discharge are addressed, and workload is decreased to provide more time for the bedside nurse to focus on the physical care and wellbeing of their patients,” noted Meredith.

The virtual nurse role is ideal for nurses with substantial knowledge and expertise, including those who may have physical limitations and difficulty with bedside practice and are considering retirement. Virtual nurses may also serve as a clinical resource or mentor for bedside nurses.

“We’re looking over the next six months or so to see what lessons we learn. We want to scale the things that work well, expanding to additional units and hospitals,” said Meredith.