MUSC Pivots on Virtual Nursing to Focus on the Specifics

By Eric Wicklund

A key component to launching an effective Virtual Nursing program is communication. How will the virtual nurse communicate with the floor nurse, as well as with the patient?

“Clear delineation of roles and communication is going to be really important,” says Emily Warr, administrator for the Center of Telehealth at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), which launched a second iteration of its Virtual Nursing program about six months ago and is now monitoring the program in five hospitals.

Warr says it’s critical to identify specific KPIs in evaluating the success of a Virtual Nursing program, and to focus on small, measurable actions rather than larger concepts. For example, it’s great to say such a program will reduce time spent on admissions and discharge, but there are many factors that go into those processes that Virtual Nursing won’t affect.

“A virtual nurse, as one member of the team, cannot carry all of the factors that impact, say, an HCAHPS score on a unit,” she points out. A more effective way of measuring value would be to focus on single factor, such as how communication between nurses affects admissions or discharge times.

MUSC launched its first version of a Virtual Nursing program about two years ago, with a focus on mentoring new nurses.  Warr said that program didn’t produce the ROI needed to be sustainable, so the health system looked for more “hard outcomes.” That led to a discussion about how to identify meaningful outcomes and understand the KPIs that go into defining a program’s value.

“We needed to focus on something that we felt we could impact and choose to measure,” she says, such as “very specific, task-oriented things.”

In the six months that version 2.0 has been in play, Warr says they’ve learned a few things about those tasks. During the first two months, as everyone was getting used to the new approach, the virtual nurse would often reach out to the floor nurse to take tasks. But as time has passed, the floor nurse is reaching out more often tp the virtual nurse to hand off tasks. In other words, the two nurses are communicating more freely (and equally) about their workflows.

“We’re still learning and evolving (in) what we’re tracking … and where we’re able to make a measurable impact,” she says. But the results so far are truly encouraging.

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