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Nurses Supporting Nurses: Collaborative Home Care With Telehealth

They’re concepts that are fundamental to nursing practice. Continuous learning. Collaboration. Nurses supporting nurses. Here’s what it all boils down to: professional isolation doesn’t make for high-quality care.

On the surface, the fix is simple. Nurses should work together. They should reach out and impart knowledge and skills across nursing disciplines. When they’re caring for the same patients, they should make sure they share health information.

If you’re a nurse, you know how easy it is to pay lip service to these ideas. In practice, implementing them isn’t always so simple.

In home care, collaboration between frontline and specialist nurses is critical. By working together in the right way, practitioner within these two groups can ensure that every patient receives the most appropriate care for her condition.

Of course, seeing a patient flourish, beat the odds, or simply experience a new measure of relief is the greatest reward for providing quality care – including that which comes about through collaboration. But for home care nurses, there are other benefits to working closely with specialists.

Such as: a broader skills and knowledge base. Increased confidence when performing new tasks. And the peace of mind that comes with being absolutely certain you’ve treated your patients in adherence with bast practices.

But is true collaboration really possible? In home care, physical distance and contrasting day-to-day experiences separate nurses who fill different roles. Can these practitioners really find ways to come together to better serve their patients?

We believe the answer is yes. Despite persistent communication challenges, there is a solution: telehealth. And now, more than ever, it’s easy to implement.

The Challenges of Isolated Practice

Consider this: the average Canadian home care nurse provides care for as many as 70 people at a time. And yet, most practitioners find a way to work effectively?

Home care nurses know about bravery, strength, and ingenuity. When a nurse walks into an unfamiliar work environment, he’s brave. When he fulfills his duty to care for a patient without the support of a colleague, he’s strong.

And when he implements the best practices developed by clinical nurses specialists and other experts, he’s ingenious. He’s ingenious because he has the ability to carry out new tasks in unfamiliar settings – all while using the skills and beside manner that serve him well as a generalist nurse.

But even those who possess the highest levels of competence are bound to struggle with certain challenges. If you’re a home care nurse, you’ve probably felt anxious while performing patient procedures for the first time.

Maybe you’ve worried about missing a subtle symptom during a wound assessment. Perhaps you’ve read the dosage for a cancer patient’s pain medication in her care plan, and it just didn’t look right. What did you do?

The fact is, when you’re on your own, getting it wrong isn’t an option. And the nervousness you feel when you fulfill a new duty for first time is a sign that you care.

Every nurse wants to provide the best possible care for her patients. In some cases, providing that care means accepting the guidance of highly-qualified specialists.

It’s worth noting that specialists often want to deal more directly with patients. A diabetes nurse may relish the opportunity to engage with frontline work.

For home care providers, the solution is clear. Encourage a workflow in which nurses supporting nurses is the norm.

Nurses Supporting Nurses, the Digital Way

There’s no question that home care nursing can be difficult and even overwhelming at times. It’s also true that many specialists are eager to understand the challenges that occur on the frontline.

There are, of course, many ways for those with specialized expertise to support generalist nurses. Education, skills development, relevant policy recommendations – the list goes on.

But one of the best things a specialist can do to help a home care practitioner is offer direct consultation that includes the patient. By sharing knowledge and engaging with patients, experts contribute directly to better health outcomes and improved wellbeing.

Consider the fact that one-third of all home care patients have wound care needs. And that wounds are becoming more complex. Physical assessments have never been more important.

Wound care specialists see things that other people – even highly-skilled health care professionals – miss. There aren’t nearly enough of these practitioners to fill the growing demand. The knowledge they possess is a precious resource – it should be used to help patients directly, not used solely for the purpose of setting guidelines.

By enabling wound care nurses and other specialists to provide face-to-face consultations, telehealth extends their reach.

Using digital technology, experts can examine a patent’s physical symptoms and listen to him describe his condition in his own words. With this information, they can coach frontline nurses through appropriate procedures, ensuring best practices are carefully adhered to.

Extended Benefits

Here are some of the major benefits that arise from nurses helping nurses through telehealth.

  • remote support – through videoconferencing, specialists can help remote nurses develop new skills and help patients when they need it most.
  • travel time reduction – specialists who would otherwise travel to see patients can perform frontline consultations more efficiently. Cost and time savings result.
  • increased bandwidth for provider organizations – with additional support, nurses can spend less time on the road and more time with patients. As a result, the agencies they work for are better prepared for any patient situation.
  • better care and health outcomes – videoconferencing allows at-home patients to reap the benefits of expertise they might not otherwise have access to. They can avoid the potential dangers and discomfort of constant commutes to and from doctors’ offices.
  • faster response time – patients often experience new symptoms or have issues that only a specialist can help with. With virtual conferencing, their wait times can be greatly reduced.

Setting Up Supportive Telehealth Systems

Nurses who advocate for telehealth have always played a role in expanding options for patients. But now, as the need for specialist care grows, they’ll also be part of a movement toward more efficient and collaborative movement.

The first challenge that many advocates will face is communicating the benefits of teleconferencing within their organizations. In the past, health care change occurred slowly over time. It can’t anymore.

Canadians are relying more and more on home care nurses for help with increasingly-complex conditions. The lines of communication between patients and any caregivers and medical professionals they interact with have to be clear and direct.

For organizations that adopt telehealth, attitude is key. It’s important that the benefits are clearly understood by all involved, and that schedules and outside demands are respected.

Of course, choosing the right technology is absolutely critical. Decision makers will need to consider how nurses communicate. As one example, home care nurses need to connect to videoconferencing apps easily and in any environment.

There are other crucial considerations. Does the app or technology in question support high-quality, realtime video? What about after a videoconference session, assessment, or remote-supported procedure has occurred? Can specialists and frontline nurses easily update care plans?

A telehealth technology should act as a digital hub, where all of a patient’s nurses – and caregivers – can instantly find one another and connect.

To that end, what about family caregivers? Can they be easily looped into consultations between their loved ones and the nurses and specialists involved? As patients are living at home more often, family members are increasingly choosing to take an active role in their care.

The right telehealth technology will be easy-to-use and intuitive. It will make collaborative care an easy process that a patient’s entire circle of care can get on board with.

Towards a More Supportive Future

Nurses supporting nurses. It’s more than just a nice-sounding concept. Based in compassion and understanding, it’s one of the health care sector’s greatest strengths.

Frontline nurses understand the vital role specialists play. They appreciate the time and energy these expert practitioners devote to improving the health care system. Specialists nurses know all too well the constant demands and high expectations that generalist nurses face.

Nurses tend to have strong mutual respect for one another. As a result, the nursing profession is sure to adapt to the collaborative spirit that telehealth requires.

Feature image courtesy of Walt Stoneburner

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