While telehealth has been around for decades, it has made leaps and bounds in recent years—and over the past few months in particular—as patients and providers have embraced the service’s potential to improve healthcare. Through a variety of telehealth platforms, patients now have access to high-quality care from the comfort of their own homes—an experience that has proved invaluable during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to the safety telehealth provides during these uncertain times, it also offers convenience. Long work days, family obligations, meal preparation, and more combine to make the modern American’s schedule more hectic than ever before. For many, the ability to avoid trips to the doctor’s office and long waiting room lines is highly attractive. It’s also cost-effective, as fewer scheduling inefficiencies and staffing roadblocks lead to cost savings for providers and patients alike. Together, these factors have further propelled the popularity of telehealth in the 21st century.
Given the promising future of telehealth nursing, many healthcare professionals are jumping in head first and eagerly asking what telehealth certification looks like for nurses.
What is Telehealth Nursing?
Telehealth nursing is a method of delivering care remotely through the use of technology, including mobile devices, tablets, and computers. Sophisticated telehealth encompasses more than digital appointment reminders and confirmations—it is a way to offer real healthcare assistance and support from a distance. While a nurse’s role in telehealth varies depending on position, it is similar to the role the nurse plays during in-person visits—providing patients with care, education, and counseling during times of need.
The basic definition of telehealth nursing is fairly straightforward, yet the practice has evolved significantly over time. Traditionally conducted solely within the realms of independent entities, telehealth nursing has blossomed into an extension of many healthcare plans, hospitals, and clinics over the last 20 years. Telehealth nursing is often an integral part of large acute care institutions, serving as an intermediary step in which nurses assess a patient’s condition and determine if an in-person visit is necessary. Healthcare professionals may also use remote nursing sessions to diagnose lower-risk conditions like conjunctivitis (pink eye), outline treatment options, educate patients about self-care at home, and more.
The Future of Telehealth Nursing
Given all the benefits of telehealth nursing for patients and providers alike—convenience, high-quality care, faster results, etc.—it’s no surprise that the future looks bright for telehealth nursing. As technology advances, patients’ comfort with virtual patient-clinician communication tends to increase, and with institutions like Stanford Children’s Hospital more than doubling their number of telehealth appointments, it seems unlikely that telehealth nursing is going away any time soon.
But the expected growth of telehealth nursing doesn’t just mean more opportunities for quality care—it also signals large-scale transformation and new opportunities for the medical field. With more than 500,000 registered nurses projected to retire by 2022, the already dire nursing shortage is only expected to escalate. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 1 million new registered nurses are needed to replace retirees and ease the industrywide staffing shortage.
This is where telehealth comes into play. The American Telemedicine Association predicts that more than half of all healthcare services will be consumed virtually by 2030. If true, this widespread adoption of telehealth technology could mitigate the effects of the nursing shortage—allowing fewer nurses to see more people—while further transforming the way healthcare is provided and consumed. Given the value and trends of telehealth nursing, now is the time for medical institutions to begin integrating telehealth technology and practices into their operations.
Fostering Connection Between Patients and Clinicians
Telehealth nursing can be incorporated into a medical setting in a variety of ways, particularly in acute care. For many hospitals—especially those in rural areas—successful telehealth nursing fosters improved connection and communication between patients and clinicians.
Patients living in rural areas typically travel great distances to access medical care, but the journey isn’t over once they arrive. Rural hospitals often lack access to specialty physicians with the background to address more advanced or complex conditions, leaving many patients without the healthcare support they need.
Telehealth platforms enable nurses to easily connect with patients from afar, providing quality care without extensive travel on the patients’ parts. Nurses in these rural settings can also use telehealth technology to remotely connect patients with out-of-area medical professionals, ensuring all patients have access to the specialized care they need. Even ICUs and NICUs in rural areas (and beyond) are using telehealth to facilitate patient-practitioner interactions, relying on video functionality to monitor sepsis, wound care, respiratory issues, and more.
Do Telehealth Nurses Work From Home?
Whether or not a telehealth nurse works from home depends on the nature of the work and the employer. While some telehealth nurses provide remote support alongside a team of telehealth professionals within a hospital, clinic, or corporate environment, many others conduct their work from home. These at-home nurses typically operate as an extension of a healthcare corporation or institution, handling triage, processing insurance claims, and managing disability cases.
The ability to work from home and have more flexible hours appeals to new and seasoned nurses seeking a better work-life balance. Unlike traditional onsite nurses, telehealth nurses who work from home can maintain their positions from anywhere. As long as they have a strong, reliable internet connection, their jobs are largely secure.
How Do I Become a Certified Telehealth Nurse?
Healthcare professionals interested in how to become a telehealth nurse are in luck: There are no telehealth-specific certifications required for telehealth nurses.
Those interested in becoming a telehealth nurse will need a nursing degree, an active nursing license, and the technological and communication skills necessary for providing remote healthcare support. Most telehealth employers also require one to two years of hands-on nursing experience in addition to triage experience. In certain cases, the requirement might be three to five years of experience.
Telehealth employers focused on a specialty area will look for candidates with specific training and certifications. For example, some nurses may have to demonstrate their knowledge of monitoring equipment, such as ECG machines, and others might need Certified Emergency Nurse credentials.
Taking Your Telehealth Nursing Skills to New Heights
While there are currently no mandatory telehealth-specific nursing certifications, that hasn’t always been the case. The National Certification Corporation’s Telephone Nursing Practice certification was popular among many healthcare professionals until it was discontinued in 2007. No other mandatory certification has replaced it at this time, but a variety of optional and recommended certifications have surfaced.
The American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nursing (AAACN) is considered a national authority on the efficiency and value of telehealth nursing. Although the AAACN does not offer specific telehealth nursing credentials, it does encourage telehealth nurses to gain ambulatory care certification.
The AAACN ambulatory care certification exam supports many healthcare employers’ desires to hire telehealth nurses who have experience evaluating, treating, and rehabilitating patients in an outpatient setting. The certification exam also includes telehealth-specific content, making it an especially strong option for clinicians interested in pursuing a career in telehealth nursing.
Technical certifications aside, all of the qualities that an onsite nurse needs—empathy, breadth and depth of knowledge, strong interpersonal skills, etc.—apply to a telehealth nurse. While these attributes may appear naturally during an in-person appointment, many healthcare professionals must hone their communication skills to ensure they translate through phone or video appointments.
But above all, successful telehealth nurses must continuously strive to develop their skills. Technology and telehealth nursing are advancing quickly, making it difficult for many healthcare professionals to keep pace. Telehealth nurses who pursue structured training and education on an annual basis elevate their qualifications and earn a leg up on the competition.
Put Telehealth Nursing Into Practice
There’s no question about it—telehealth is quickly becoming an industry standard rather than a “nice to have” option. Medical institutions across the country are discovering the array of benefits telehealth nursing provides and are incorporating the practice into their operations as quickly as possible.
While there are no telehealth-specific certifications or requirements for telehealth nurses, the position does necessitate hands-on experience and additional training. All medical institutions are encouraged to put training programs in place to support the continuing development of their telehealth nurses and ensure patients receive the highest-quality care at all times.