Intermountain Sees Unexpected Benefits in Virtual Nursing Pilot

By Eric Wicklund

Intermountain Health’s new Telehealth for Nursing program may be checking all the boxes for a virtual nursing pilot, with KPIs that focus on improving patient outcomes and cutting down on wasted time. But executives are also keeping an eye on the intangibles.

Becky Fox, chief clinical information officer for the Salt Lake City-based health system, and HealthLeaders Mastermind participant, says an innovative program has to include an “other” box, especially when it deals with front-ling clinical work. That’s because nurses can take a new idea developed by health system executives and make it better.

“We kind of leave it as an ‘other’ field because we know that nurses are the best entrepreneurial, innovative folks, and if anyone’s going to figure out another way that anyone can use telehealth and these technologies, then our nursing staff are going to do it,” she says. “We always have a KPI that’s other things we have learned or other benefits that we have seen along the way.”

Intermountain is one of a handful of health systems across the country that are taking part in the HealthLeaders Virtual Nursing Masterminds program, a series of virtual meetings capped off by an in-person event in June. The program is taking a deep dive into virtual nursing strategies with perspectives from some of the top health systems and executives in the country.

Like so many other health systems, Intermountain is just getting started on the journey, with a small pilot program in one hospital. Fox says the concept was launched to address not only the ongoing nursing shortage, but to improve the patient experience. The pilot program uses a virtual nursing station within the hospital and shifts nurses on the unit between in-person and virtual care.

Fox says the program will evolve as Intermountain learn more about the nuances of virtual nursing, but she has been surprised so far in how the nurses are responding. While visiting the hospital a few weeks ago, Fox says she talked with a nurse involved in the pilot.

“She said ‘I really wanted to do follow-up,’” Fox recalls. “’This patient told me this amazing story of his life. I really connected with him.’ And so she wanted to do a follow-up. So that goes in the ‘other’ category.”

“So now we’re looking at, as other healthcare organizations have done, do we have a follow-up telehealth visit with that patient with that nurse, [maybe] two days later, to say ‘Hey, Mr. Smith, I just wanted to see how you were doing. You were telling me the other day that you were concerned about this. Have you had your needs met? And having that [extra] touchpoint.”

Fox says Intermountain executives are learning a lot from this pilot program, and that both nurses and patients are seeing the value.

“They do feel connected regardless of the fact that the nurse is on a laptop, a mobile cart, or whether we have the telemetry in the room on a big monitor,” she says. “They feel like they’re being supported, educated, and know how to care for themselves when they go home.”

Those feelings, Fox says, will help executives as they move from a pilot in one hospital to a program in several hospitals. And that’s why the ‘other’ box is just as important as any of the KPIs.

Eric Wicklund is the associate content manager and senior editor for Innovation, Technology, and Pharma for HealthLeaders.