By Melissa Wirkus, contributor
November 6, 2011 - Providing remote patients with the opportunity to receive quality health care, education and information in the home setting by way of technology is just one of the many benefits of telehealth (also known as telemedicine).
Although the concept has been around for many years, new technological advancements and funding opportunities have helped telehealth emerge as an important and viable resource for health care professionals and patients--and now nursing schools are beginning to implement telehealth-specific curriculum to keep up with this growing field.
Cathleen Collins, Ph.D., RN, CNE, associate professor and chair of the department of nursing at UVa-Wise, said telehealth is becoming an important element of nursing education.
Cathleen Collins, Ph.D., RN, CNE, associate professor and chair of the University of Virginia's College at Wise (UVa-Wise) Department of Nursing, said telehealth is quickly becoming a critical aspect of nursing education.
"It's offering a way for people who are in areas that might not have the specialists and resources to be able to have that care without having to drive a long way and without health care professionals having to go out to the rural communities themselves."
The nursing school at UVa-Wise was recently awarded a $20,000 Verizon Foundation grant to fund one of the first telehealth nursing curriculums in the state. Pursuing this type of funding was a natural choice for UVa-Wise, due to both its rural location and partnership with The Healthy Appalachia Institute and the University of Virginia Office of Telemedicine.
"We are currently working, with the help of Verizon, to come up with a curriculum for undergraduate nursing students so they are more in-tune and informed about what telemedicine is," said Collins.
"This is especially important to students in this area, because it is a very rural area, and most of our students do stay around here [post-graduation], so they will be able to become more informed about something that is probably going to become part of their practice within the next four to five years."
Besides funding from major corporations like Verizon, the increase in telehealth adoption can also be credited to new government reimbursements through Medicare and other major programs.
"There has been a lot of growth in this area, and not just necessarily in rural areas either," Collins said. "It has become more popular in the acute care settings, as well. There are telehealth units in the ICU now, where specialists from different parts of the nation can see patients from across the country, look over charts and give their opinion, via a monitor, without actually having to fly over to see the patient."
Collins and her colleagues are infusing telehealth into the school's current curriculum by conducting research and collecting data on the industry's best practices, technology and quality standards; they have already started implementing the new information this semester.
"We are choosing courses and parts of the curriculum where telemedicine could be used and offering simulations so students can see how telemedicine can be used in certain specialties," Collins explained.
The students will get the information in key classes, and other faculty members also have been trained in the use of telemedicine.
Along with adding telehealth information to more classes next semester, Collins and her team hope to add a mental health and psychotherapy simulation which they believe will be especially important for the students to be familiar with as they enter the workforce.
To help gauge the progress of the program, nursing students will provide feedback about the new curriculum at the end of each semester.
UVa-Wise isn't the only nursing school implementing telehealth programs. Colleges and universities across the country are identifying funding opportunities and are catching on to the importance of educating future nurses in this rapidly expanding field that is transforming patient care delivery and curbing costs.
The University of Wisconsin at Madison (UW-Madison) School of Nursing recently received significant funding for the Wisconsin Technology Enhanced Collaborative Nursing Education (WI-TECNE) program from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HRSA). The goal of the program is to equip faculty across the state with the knowledge and resources needed to implement telehealth, informatics and simulated nursing in undergraduate education.
Each of the five nursing schools in the UW network will work to train faculty on technology-enhanced teaching approaches.
UVa-Wise is also helping practicing nurses gain knowledge by holding a telemedicine conference for nurses in April 2012.
"With technology, there are not a lot of boundaries. Your imagination is your boundary. You can really use telemedicine with just about anything," Collins concluded. "I think it's going to be a good thing for patients in areas where they may not get the best care to be able to have quality care that they weren't able to get before through this kind of technology."
Definition of Telemedicine:
According to the American Telemedicine Association: "Telemedicine, broadly defined, is the delivery of any healthcare service or transmission of wellness information using telecommunications technology. Closely associated with telemedicine is the term "telehealth," which is often used to encompass a broader definition of remote healthcare that does not always involve clinical services. Videoconferencing, transmission of still images, e-health including patient portals, remote monitoring of vital signs, continuing medical education and nursing call centers are all considered part of telemedicine and telehealth.
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