How nurse practitioners expand healthcare access through telehealth

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Nurse practitioners play a vital role in delivering healthcare to their communities. Alongside traditional, in-person consultations, these healthcare professionals are leading the way in providing telehealth services. This mode of healthcare delivery offers many benefits. One of the most noteworthy is that it enables nurse practitioners to reach patients who would otherwise find it difficult to access services.

This article explores this benefit and many others, examining the role of nurse practitioners in expanding access to healthcare through telehealth services. After reading the article, you’ll understand the many positive impacts of nurse practitioners on healthcare and their communities. You may also be ready to take the first step toward qualifying as a family nurse practitioner yourself, taking healthcare forward to serve future generations.

What is telehealth?

Telehealth – also known as telemedicine, digital health, and eHealth – refers to the delivery of health services and care remotely through digital means. This is often via video or telephone call, email, or private messaging. It can be used for a wide range of healthcare issues, from diagnosing acute illnesses to monitoring chronic health conditions. This method increased in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic when face-to-face appointments were not always possible. It continues to be of great benefit to healthcare professionals, such as nurse practitioners and communities.

One area where it is excelling is helping to serve unmet needs in healthcare. Research has highlighted that geographical barriers and lack of local provision are significant reasons for unfulfilled healthcare needs. For example, one project reviewed more than 100 studies on unmet healthcare needs in older people. It found that among the common reasons for these unmet needs were lack of health facilities and lack of time. These barriers are easily overcome by telehealth delivery, which breaks down barriers of distance and saves time. These benefits apply equally to patients and practitioners.

The numerous advantages that telehealth offers position it as an essential element within healthcare practices. It can procure better outcomes for healthcare delivery now and in the future.

Nurse practitioners and telehealth

According to state regulations, nurse practitioners are highly skilled healthcare professionals who work with varying levels of autonomy. In many cases, they can fulfill tasks that doctors traditionally carried out. These include diagnosing illnesses, ordering and interpreting tests, devising treatment plans, and prescribing medication.

They often (but not exclusively) work in primary care settings, caring for patients at all stages of their lives and building up close relationships in the process. In this role, they are sometimes referred to by their full title of ‘family nurse practitioner.’

As part of their remit, they may use telehealth methods to communicate with their patients. Below, we examine these modalities and how they work.

Virtual care for everyday solutions

Virtual care, or using digital means to consult with patients, offers solutions to everyday health issues. Here, patients can seek a consultation with their nurse practitioner by phone or video call to discuss an acute but not life-threatening issue. An example of this would be if the patient is feeling unwell with a fever or other minor symptoms.

A virtual care appointment can be used for them to discuss their symptoms with their nurse practitioner, who can then decide whether they need to see them face to face or send them to the emergency room. One of the most apparent advantages of virtual care in these situations is that it supports social distancing and reduces the spread of infection if the patient has a contagious disease.

Virtual care also means that patients save time and money traveling to healthcare facilities, especially if they are feeling too unwell to make the journey. It also increases their options as their geographical location does not restrict their choice of healthcare provider. So, patients could opt to see a nurse practitioner rather than their closest healthcare provider. As nurse practitioners fulfill many of the tasks that were formerly only carried out by doctors, patients receive the same high level of care.

Remote monitoring for long-term conditions

Remote monitoring allows nurse practitioners to monitor a patient’s health while they are at home. It is most often used for patients with long-term health conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or asthma.

Patients are provided with devices to track their health status. These include blood glucose meters, blood pressure monitors, and pulse oximeters, or they could be wearables such as smartwatches. They can report the results taken from these devices directly to their nurse practitioner through text, email, phone call, or video call.

The nurse practitioner analyzes the results and discusses them with the patient over the phone or video. If necessary, they call the patient into their office for further examination. Often, they are able to advise the patient remotely based on the findings.

Remote monitoring provides many benefits to patients and practitioners alike. Firstly, it reduces the time, hassle, and cost of getting to the clinic. This is especially useful for patients who have mobility issues or who live in isolated locations. Also, if they are immunocompromised, this reduces the risk of infection.

What’s more, patients with chronic conditions are likely to need regular appointments, so this modality is beneficial for this section of the community. Telehealth is an efficient use of nurse practitioners’ time, as patients can take responsibility for the monitoring processes. It also enables nurses to observe their patients in their own environment, which can give valuable information about many aspects of their well-being.

Remote monitoring can help prevent hospital readmission, making it a cost-effective and efficient way to deliver care. One long-term benefit of this is that patients are empowered to take responsibility for their health. Carrying out essential monitoring themselves can help them better understand and manage their condition.

Tailoring healthcare to patients

As we’ve seen in the examples above, telehealth is concerned with tailoring healthcare to patients and making it more accessible than ever before. Patients who don’t have access to transport, who live in remote places, or who can’t get to a clinic quickly because of mobility or health issues can benefit enormously from the provision of telehealth services.

Research has shown that patients appreciate the benefits of telehealth and understand how it opens healthcare wider than ever before. A survey asked both patients and health professionals to rank the benefits of telehealth. The top benefit given was that it improved access to healthcare, irrespective of location. This reinforces telehealth’s status as a service that works in favor of patients, especially those who live in remote places.

Nurse practitioners are the ideal professionals to deliver this type of healthcare. Their high level of skill means that they are well-practiced in using technology and have the knowledge to make the best decisions for their patients.

This technology allows nurse practitioners to continue nurturing their relationships with their patients, near or far, fostering stronger bonds and a better patient experience. In addition to helping nurse practitioners deliver responsive, convenient care, telehealth enables easy communication with other professionals. This is especially useful if they need to consult with an expert in another location or one who doesn’t have time to meet them at the clinic. 

It’s clear that telehealth, driven by experienced healthcare workers such as nurse practitioners, has opened healthcare for patients and professionals alike.

Be part of the telehealth revolution.

Nurse practitioners can make a crucial difference in bridging the gap for patients who are often overlooked or who struggle with mobility issues (i.e., in-person appointments) with the use of telehealth and other innovative practices. Recognizing this is important when embarking on a nursing career and making a positive impact in the community.

Candidates who already possess a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), a registered nurse (RN) license and a year of clinical experience may be eligible to apply for nurse practitioner online programs. The Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) – Family Nurse Practitioner program offered by Wilkes University, for example, delivers coursework online so students can study from various locations. During the program, students will learn about essential topics such as pharmacology and diagnostic reasoning, as well as matters relevant to underserved populations who could benefit from telehealth services. The program also includes support to secure clinical placements for students to apply knowledge and expertise in a natural healthcare environment. 

Once students have completed this course, which is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), they will be able to gain licensure as a family nurse practitioner. In this role, there will be autonomy and independence to provide communities with flexible, responsive health care.

What’s the outlook for family nurse practitioners?

Working as a family nurse practitioner means that you can enjoy several other benefits. These include increased independence and autonomy in a variety of settings, as well as the satisfaction of helping to improve patient outcomes.

Family nurse practitioners may work in their own private practice, in an outpatient or community setting, or in schools or universities, to name just a few. They may also specialize further, focusing their careers on caring for women’s health, older people, or children.

Family nurse practitioners are also rewarded with a high salary. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage for nurse practitioners stands at around $124,000. The prospects for this profession are excellent – in fact, nurse practitioner is the second fastest-growing occupation in the US. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 44.5% employment change in the decade 2022 to 2023. This means that the demand for family nurse practitioners is set to remain high, with many opportunities available to qualified individuals.

Delivering better and more responsive care

The work of nurse practitioners is related to technological developments such as telehealth. As part of their extensive training, nurse practitioners learn about access to healthcare and disparities among differing communities. Many nurse practitioners are passionate about this area. Fortunately, their role enables them to employ innovative and responsive methods to bridge the gap. Nurse practitioners are increasingly turning to telehealth to help them deliver care to every one of their patients.

Becoming a family nurse practitioner is a gratifying career, and it has a highly positive impact on the community. The aid of modern technology, particularly that of telehealth, has meant that family nurse practitioners are able to reach those in their communities who need that extra care and communication. Having the essential skills to communicate with patients with healthcare technology means that patients can communicate their concerns about their health without having to go into medical practice to see a nurse or doctor in person, which could cost them more than they can afford.