Growing academic offering: Telehealth tech training for nurses

Since virtual health care is not likely going away, even after the COVID threat subsides, nursing program administrators are looking at adding more related education and experiences.

Not long after COVID hit, medical practices that never would have dreamed of seeing a patient virtually began quickly putting telehealth processes into place. That move sparked a need for proper training for physicians, nurses and staff on using the technology—a need that higher ed institutions with health care programs are paying attention to.

Nurses, for example, should understand the variety of modalities within telehealth and how to integrate telehealth into practice. Telehealth can look like anything from a simple phone call to a comprehensive health assessment conducted at a clinic using telehealth equipment that allows a patient to undergo testing without the provider in the room.

As with many COVID-induced practices, academic officials and others are recognizing, telehealth will likely continue to play a major role in health care post-pandemic.

“There was a lot of interest in telehealth nursing training pre-pandemic, and that has only been amplified by the rapid pivot toward telehealth that nearly all organizations have had to make,” says Margaree (Gree) Jordan-Amberg, MSN, RN, chair of the Telehealth Special Interest Group within the American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nursing. Its annual conferences offer a telehealth track. “I would suspect this will be reflected in nursing curricula in the future,” she adds.

Telehealth education in nursing has traditionally not been integrated adequately into classroom content, simulation and clinical experiences, according to a study published in a 2015 edition of Nurse Educator. The study looked at trends in telehealth education within 43 schools of nursing.

As for the role of telehealth in the future, Jordan-Amberg points out that many organizations are saying they will continue to utilize telehealth and videoconferencing regularly. That is, she adds, “as long as the reimbursement structure doesn’t change back to what it was before, where telehealth and video were reimbursed at lower rates.”

Sacred Heart University in Connecticut is one institution getting into the telehealth education arena. Its four-course telehealth certificate program, offered through the Susan L. Davis, R.N., & Richard J. Henley College of Nursing, launches this semester. The aim is to enable advanced practice nurses (those holding a master’s degree or master’s and doctoral degree in nursing) to become leaders in telehealth primary care. Sacred Heart officials believe this is the only telehealth certificate specifically focused on the nurse practitioner.

Upon completion of each eight-week class, the professionals will have knowledge in how to use a variety of telehealth technology modalities effectively, including for consultations, preventative care and management of acute and chronic issues. Donna McHaney, clinical associate professor and director of the Davis & Henley College of Nursing’s online FNP and DNP programs, including the new telehealth certificate, explains that development of the program had been in the works for about a year and the pandemic was the “tipping point” proving the need for such education.

One topic addressed is the use of telehealth technology across the life span for care coordination, transition management, health promotion and patient and family education. The fourth course, focused on clinical work, will provide nurses with 60 hours of experience applying what they have learned in real-world settings.

Nurses completing the program will also be prepared to assume leadership rules in telehealth.

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The content includes remote assessment, diagnosis and management of care planning either within a state or in multiple states.

“I know the question of practice across state lines has been a hot topic during COVID,” says Jordan-Amberg, adding that the Sacred Heart program sounds relatively unique, particularly since the combination of remote monitoring and videoconferencing is very new. “I do think it’s good that they are addressing [practice across states], as well as how to appropriately do an assessment over video or phone.”

Melissa Ezarik is senior managing editor of UB.

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