She has a kind face, warm smile, and a reassuring voice. She’s knowledgeable, and she makes you feel like everything is under control. But your telepresence nurse of the future is dozens of miles from your hospital bedside.
Appearing via video conference on what looks to be an iPad strapped to a Segway, your telepresence nurse will be quite a sight when she first wheels into your room. If you can get past that robotic appearance though, the standard of care should be the same as the more traditional approach.
The question is, though, can you get past the appearance? No matter how well informed these cyborg nurses will be–and with Internet of Things connectivity they should know everything about you, including your current heart rate, before they ever step in your room–recreating a natural human bedside manner with a robot is going to be difficult. Luckily, some nursing students are getting a head start on solving that problem by incorporating video conferencing in nursing education through the use of robots.
Duke University Uses Video Conferencing in Nursing Education
Duke University’s School of Nursing is so advanced it’s already been awarded the highest ranking in next year’s Best Nursing Schools report. That kind of achievement attracts a lot of prospective students, so Duke has made its advanced nursing degrees available online to cope with demand.
Nursing is, of course, is an occupation that would seem to require in-person, on-site learning, which creates a problem for remote students unable to attend hospital teaching rounds. To overcome this problem, the school has started using their own version of the video conferencing robots mentioned above.
Using the telepresence robots, remote students can maneuver around Duke’s simulation hospital, interacting with students and teachers via a video conferencing enabled screen that sits at head height on the device. You can see them in action below:
The robots are an evolution of mobile telepresence devices intended to give telecommuters a more human presence around the office. So, rather than just popping up on screen during a scheduled video call, remote staff can wander around and have informal interactions with colleagues.
In the business world, that mobility is more of a luxury, but if you’re a nurse on a hospital ward there are obvious advantages to being able to encounter and respond to the unexpected.
Video Conferencing in Healthcare
Video conferencing is being deployed across our healthcare spectrum. It’s being considered the future of emergency medicine, it’s being used to bring telemedicine to Texas, it’s providing privacy for HIV patients through virtual clinics, and it’s being used to bring patients, caregivers, and families together in spite of distance.
In the bulk of uses, however, the setting is structured, the devices are stationary desktops, and the environment is controlled. You might schedule an appointment with an online therapist, for example, and speak with them by video call like you were meeting across a desk.
Telepresence robots, however, are built to move. That’s a big advantage to a virtual nurse patrolling a hospital ward, because you only need one video calling device to reach dozens. Rather than equip every patient with a bedside video calling screen for a remote nurse to switch between, the telepresence robot can roll around to each in turn and just point its camera at them. If a telepresence nurse overhears a patient in distress while attending to someone else in the same room, they can swivel their robot around and investigate in real-time. One virtual nurse who can tend to an entire ward is going to become a prized commodity in the future, because the U.S. is facing a huge nursing shortage.
Why We Need Telepresence Nurses
It is projected that by 2025, the U.S. will experience a nursing shortage twice the size of any previous shortfall since the introduction of Medicare in the 1960s. There are already more than a million unfilled vacancies in the system. The county’s aging population is having a double-edged impact on the industry, simultaneously producing more patients and reducing the number of nurses; a large percentage of current nurses entered the workforce before the 1970s, and are nearing retirement.
Telepresence-trained nurses have the potential to help that crisis by embracing technology. Telepresence gives them the ability to work in several different hospitals during the same shift. VC Daily recently discussed how even a trainee doctor using video calling could visit 10 different clinical settings in a single day.
With telepresence robots powered up and waiting in wards across the country, a single nurse could walk the halls of several different hospitals, or be on call to fill a vacancy wherever it occurs, without ever leaving home. The devices can be controlled from a smartphone, tablet, or desktop, so there’s no expense in providing access. Specialist nurses could spread their expertise across the country, and the robots could also work in high-risk areas where contagions would make conditions unsafe for humans.
Embracing the machine elements of the telepresence staff might also be the best way to improve their interaction with patients. Telepresence has yet to develop a way to hug or place a comforting hand on a patient’s shoulder from across the internet, but it can do a whole lot of things a regular nurse cannot, such as:
- Host a group video call with a patient’s loved ones
- Display movies and media to fill long hospital hours
- Provide a live link to support groups
- Live stream events like the Super Bowl or Academy Awards
- Introduce patients to the home aids who’ll visit them once they’re discharged
- Keep everyone connected on social media
By accepting and exploiting their robotic form, telepresence nurses could become a source of entertainment, comfort, and information on the hospital ward, and patch a little bit of the hole in the demand for more nurses and healthcare workers.