by Amy Keller
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacted a toll on the nursing profession, intensifying burnout and causing many nurses to leave the bedside.
At AdventHealth Fish Memorial Hospital in Orange City, resignations peaked at 46% in January 2022 during the Omicron variant surge. Seeking to stabilize its workforce, the hospital’s emergency department launched a pilot program last April, adding virtual RNs in 14 of the emergency department’s 37 beds to help with a variety of tasks and reduce the workload on the bedside nurses.
The nurses, who work from a remote location, interact with patients via cameras and microphones and appear on the patient’s television screen. They virtually “knock” before entering, and when the patient gives permission, a camera is turned on. Tasks performed by the remote nurse range from documenting the patient’s medical history to compiling accurate lists of the medications the patient is taking. With that assistance, bedside nurses have more time to spend administering medications, changing wound dressings and performing other hands-on tasks.
AdventHealth has other virtual nursing pilots at its hospitals in Daytona Beach, DeLand and Ocala. So far, it appears to be a win-win for patients and nurses. “I’ve never had a patient who said they didn’t like the (virtual) nurse. Everyone’s very receptive to it,” says Melinda Leach, an RN in Fish Memorial’s emergency department.
Michele Johnson, chief nursing officer at Fish Memorial Hospital, says the virtual nurses also are providing a second set of eyes on patients if needed. Call-light use by patients has dropped since the technology was implemented as patients have another avenue to ask questions.
Johnson says she believes virtual nursing is providing an important “retention pathway” to allow “those with the most experience and knowledge” to remain in the profession a bit longer. “We know that our Boomer population is growing. Our nurses are aging more,” Johnson says. “If they can’t handle being on their feet 12 hours, can they go be the experienced nurse in a virtual platform? I think it opens up another avenue for longevity in the nursing profession.”
Five months into the pilot project, RN turnover at Fish Memorial dropped to 15.8%, and John Lazarus, emergency department director at Fish Memorial, says virtual nursing is a “major reason” for the decrease, along with other workforce investments that AdventHealth has made, including providing $100 million for tuition assistance and loan forgiveness. “Our leaders had the foresight to really think outside the box and think of innovative ways to support bedside nursing. We really needed to stabilize that workforce because at the end of the day, we need qualified, competent and compassionate caregivers to care for our community,” Lazarus says.