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Mastering Telehealth Assessment: A Guide for Nurses

Siel Ju
December 7, 2023
January 17, 2024

In the early days of 2020, the Covid-19 crisis transformed healthcare in America. Suddenly, routine in-person doctor visits vanished, replaced by virtual check-ins, fundamentally changing how individuals seek medical care. Today, even though the pandemic has officially ended, virtual care is here to stay. Telehealthcare now makes up about 14% to 17% of all visits, a big jump from the 1% in February 2020. 

However, this quick switch brought its own challenges, especially for the people on the frontlines of healthcare. Nurses who used to provide bedside care suddenly found themselves in the world of video and phone consultations, with little preparation and no formal training. These healthcare workers had to get creative, cobbling together strategies on the fly to give their patients the best care possible.

Even today, a considerable number of nursing professionals are navigating the realm of remote care without comprehensive training, grappling with the complexities on their own. However, since the initial days of the pandemic, the landscape of virtual health has evolved, and best practices have emerged. Here are some key strategies to assist nurses in conducting more effective telehealth assessments, leveraging them as a pivotal tool for patient care.

Practice effective online etiquette

Navigating the world of telehealth assessments comes with its own challenges. It's a different ballgame from the traditional face-to-face interactions that nurses are accustomed to. Spotting cues becomes trickier. Nurses and nurse case managers, for example, need to be extra cautious about telehealth privacy, realizing the limitations of not fully seeing a patient's surroundings. 

Moreover, establishing a connection without physical presence requires a deliberate endeavor to engage with patients on a human level. The typical small talk about weather or traffic that used to be a staple in clinic interactions may no longer be applicable, especially if the patient and nurse find themselves in entirely different locations. 

The visual constraints of online interactions can also make active listening more challenging. Nurses might need to clearly communicate their attentiveness, clarifying that they're still tuned in even if they are looking away from the screen or typing notes. Careful consideration and more verbal cues are necessary to guarantee effective communication.

Use different senses

Another crucial strategy in virtual care involves the use of all senses. Unlike traditional face-to-face evaluations where physical touch is usually predominant, nurses must depend on visual and auditory cues during remote interactions. This transition calls for a purposeful approach, prompting nurses to take it slow, pay close attention, and actively listen to patients.

For example, in a traditional healthcare setting, a nurse is in the same room as a patient, closely monitoring their breathing, noting the pace, depth, and any potential signs of distress. This hands-on method provides a comprehensive understanding of the patient's respiratory status. In a virtual care setting, however, the nurse is physically distanced and has to rely exclusively on what they can perceive through the virtual interface. Instead of physically observing chest movements or respiratory subtleties, the nurse must attentively listen to the patient's breath, evaluating not just the rhythm but also its quality and any indications of struggle. This heightened dependence on auditory cues necessitates a more intentional and focused listening approach, reminiscent of how a blind person sharpens their auditory senses.

Additionally, the nurse must visually assess the patient's overall demeanor, taking note of any observable signs of respiratory distress or discomfort. This visual observation becomes a pivotal element in the absence of physical touch. Traditional methodologies thus have to be recalibrated, taking on a holistic approach that takes into account the constraints of the virtual medium.

Be mindful of cultural differences

Cultural differences throw in another layer of complexity in virtual care. More often than not, the nurse and the patient find themselves in different locales – and are more likely to come from different social, cultural, and economic backgrounds. This situation can stir up unintentional misunderstandings. 

For nurses, understanding local vernacular and conversational pacing norms is crucial in navigating these cultural gaps, since failure to adapt to these cultural nuances can hinder the development of a strong nurse-patient relationship. To help encourage trust and rapport, organizations should offer — and nurses can seek out — relevant cultural competency training. 

As the landscape of virtual care continues to evolve, nursing professionals play a pivotal role in ensuring that patient care remains personalized, culturally sensitive, and effective. Nurses become key players, adapting their skills to the dynamic demands of virtual care to guarantee the best possible outcomes for their patients.

For healthcare providers seeking training in virtual care, Veta Health offers Engagement Nursing in Virtual Care: A Comprehensive Course for Telehealth Excellence. Created by experienced remote care nurses, this self-paced, online course is available to individual healthcare professionals and institutions alike. The first module, Telehealth Assessment: Enhancing Nursing Practice for Remote Care, is available now. Enroll online to stay at the forefront of telehealth excellence.

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