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Michigan's Trinity Health to begin using 'virtual' on-screen nurses

by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | January 20, 2023
Health IT Telemedicine
Trinity Health, in Michigan, is deploying a new program that connects patients with virtual nurses.
To keep up with patient demands in the midst of a nursing shortage, Trinity Health, in Michigan, is implementing a virtual nurse program to allow patients to interact with on-screen nurses.

Called the Virtual Connected Care Program, the initiative allows these “virtual” nurses to answer questions, provide support or check patients out. Either the virtual nurse or the patient can start the encounter, with the patient able to see the nurse, reported the Grand Rapids Business Journal.

The program consists of the virtual nurse, an in-person registered direct care nurse to supervise care, and a licensed practical nurse.

The pilot was launched in January 2022 at Trinity Health Oakland Hospital in Pontiac, followed by another iteration in June. By September, Trinity was “confident that the model was replicable,” said Doug Dascenzo, regional chief nursing officer at Trinity Health Michigan, in a statement.

Because the virtual nurses have “no competing demands,” they can provide 100% attention, says Dascenzo. “In the model that we’re developing, the patient doesn’t always have to press a call bell and wait for a response. The patient can initiate the encounter with the virtual nurse, and the response is almost immediate.”

The program allows those who are physically tired from in-person nursing or unable to deal with its physical demands to utilize their knowledge and skills in new ways, and has already been shown to improve traditional care models.

Virtual nurses can coordinate and communicate several disciplines of care simultaneously and arrange for discharge teaching to ensure patients understand everything they have been told. Newcomer nurses can be paired with them to learn critical thinking skills and expertise. All virtual nurses will be experienced but not require a bachelor’s degree, widening the applicant pool.

“We’ve seen that they (virtual nurses) don’t just fill in the gaps, they are actually able to proactively anticipate the needs for the patient as opposed to the patient or the family having to initiate those questions,” said Christie Sansom, vice president and transformation officer of Trinity Health.

Trinity Health plans to learn more about implementing the model “in the next couple of years,” said Sansom.

The hospital was not able to provide a specific date for the program’s launch, but said it will be sometime before virtual nurses are deployed at Trinity hospitals.

Trinity Health told HCB News that it was unable to comment.

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