Nurse Input is Crucial to Jefferson Health’s Virtual Nursing Program

By Eric Wicklund

Virtual nursing programs require careful planning. And no one knows that better than the nurses.

“Including those bedside nurses [in planning] is the most important thing you can ever do,” says Laura Gartner, DNP, MS, RN, RN-BC, NEA-BC, Associate CNIO for Jefferson Health. “Because if you just try to [drop] a program into their unit without taking what they think is important, it’s not going to be successful because it’s not going to fit into their day or what they would value.”

Gartner is one of the point people for the Philadelphia-based health system’s Virtual Nursing program, which is entering its second iteration after a 90-day pilot in 2023 on two floors of one hospital. They’ve sharpened their focus now, she says, with funding for a more durable model and clear goals for sustainability and scalability.

“We’re not calling it a pilot anymore because we’re not piloting this,” she says. “We know we’re moving forward with it.”

Jefferson Health is one of a handful of health systems across the country 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.

Gartner says involving nurses in every phase of the program is crucial, because they know what will work and what won’t. And as Jefferson Health moved beyond the pilot and began to map out a more permanent program, those nurses helped to point out that the bedside nurse and the virtual nurse are two different roles requiring unique skillsets.

“A lesson we learned is that talking to a person through a computer is much different than talking to a person where you can, say, touch their shoulder,” Gartner says. The bedside nurse has always had that in-person connection to patients that influences every task from care delivery to communication. Simply taking a nurse, putting him or her in front of a computer in a separate room and telling him/her to continue being a nurse won’t cut it.

“That’s a little bit of a different conversation and skill set,” she notes, adding that Jefferson Health is working with a local nursing school to plot how to teach “webside” manner.

Gartner says the health system “threw out a broad net” in coming up with goals for the pilot, and has since narrowed its focus.

“With that first phase pilot, use cases came out of the woodwork,” she notes. “But if you focus on everything, do you really make a difference on anything?”

That’s why it’s important, Gartner says, to create a partnership between the floor and virtual nurse, so that they’re working together on patient care. And that involves making sure both nurses are comfortable in their roles and their environments.

“I do hope that goes beyond just assigning the tasks to someone, so more of that working in concert with each other, being part of that care team, like you were there on the floor.”

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