Allegheny Health Network

05/18/2023 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 05/18/2023 08:00

AHN’s team of 60+ in-house digital nurses will free bedside RNs to spend more time on direct patient care, while giving nurses new career options

Thursday, May 18, 2023

AHN's team of 60+ in-house digital nurses will free bedside RNs to spend more time on direct patient care, while giving nurses new career options

PITTSBURGH - Allegheny Health Network (AHN) today announced the launch of the region's first full-time Digital Nursing program, part of the network's ongoing campaign to reinvent the nursing profession while providing more efficient, effective care for its hospitalized patients.

The new in-house Digital Nursing team will begin serving AHN Forbes Hospital this summer, expanding to all AHN hospital facilities by the end of 2024. Utilizing remote communication technologies, digital nurses will partner with bedside nurses to interact with patients, ask and answer questions, provide education, and complete admissions and discharges more efficiently.

The admission and discharge processes can be time-consuming for nurses - upon a patient's admission, a nurse might spend 45 minutes collecting recent medical history, asking about pain levels and current medications, and documenting the information in the hospital's electronic health record.

Similarly, when a patient is discharged, a nurse or a team of nurses might spend 30-45 minutes talking to patients and their family members about the after-visit care timeline, educating patients on how to prevent further injury or illness, discussing at-home medication regimens, and explaining the process for making follow-up outpatient appointments.

Those tasks, while essential to the intake and discharge processes and crucial elements of the care continuum, also take away from the time that nurses can spend on clinical activities. With digital nurses now handling those tasks, bedside nurses will be free to concentrate on direct, hands-on patient care.

The virtual communications technologies that will be deployed at Forbes were first piloted at AHN Allegheny General Hospital (AGH), and the work processes used for digital admissions and discharges were designed by - and for - AHN nurses.

"We're already doing this, and we know that it works," said Angela Costa, MPM, BSN, RN, Interim Chief Nurse Executive for AHN. "While our bedside nurses will still be hands-on when it comes to providing high-quality care, our digital nurses can be there with the patient whenever they are needed, in real time, on a smart TV or smart pad in their room."

Digital nurses are not intended to replace bedside nursing staff, but rather to complement and enhance their work by providing an extra set of "digital" hands.

"With advanced technologies and tools at their disposal, digital nurses can support bedside nurses in delivering high-quality patient care, helping to improve outcomes and enhance the overall health care experience," Costa said.

Through its own observations, AHN learned that its nurses - across different hospitals, units, and shifts - spend almost 50 % of their time on indirect patient care activities and administrative tasks. After piloting the Digital Nursing program at AGH, bedside nurses were given back over 80 minutes daily, allowing them to use that time to focus on other patient care tasks.

After a patient is admitted to a room, a digital nurse will virtually "knock" on the patient's TV through audio, then ask if the patient has time for a consultation. The patient can verbally consent to the video conversation or tell the digital nurse to check in later, protecting the patient's privacy.

The new communications systems - which include a smart TV, a smart pad, and a mounted camera - will also allow family members or caregivers who are off-site to listen to after-visit instructions remotely, through a one-time video conference link.

"I love what I do. It's cutting-edge, and that makes it exciting to be a part of this team," said Sally Fitzgerald, MSN, RN, one of AHN's first digital nurses. "The patients have the opportunity to ask a lot of questions, and they get their discharge instructions more promptly, creating a better patient experience and shortening their overall length of stay."

Digital nurses will also assist in ensuring that patients already have a follow-up appointment scheduled before they are discharged. Previously, that responsibility fell to the patients and their families.

"Discharge can be a vulnerable time for patients," Fitzgerald said. "But when the patient's next appointment is already scheduled before they even leave the hospital, that's one less thing for the patient and their families to worry about."

When the telecommunications technologies are fully deployed, the AHN digital nursing team will include about 60 nurses, who will be onboarded in-person but will all eventually work from home. Because they are AHN employees, rather than part of a virtual staffing agency, they are more familiar with the network's hospitals, workflows, and patient-centered culture.

Enabling nurses to work remotely is another example of how AHN is reinventing nursing to accommodate a changing workforce, providing nurses with the freedom and flexibility to pursue their careers in a way that suits their individual needs and lifestyle. AHN is taking these steps to improve the workplace environment and work-life balance for its nurses, and to mitigate the effects of the ongoing workforce and nursing shortages.

"AHN is committed to the well-being of our staff, and we recognize that the nurse's role must evolve," said Jim Benedict, President, AHN. "Bedside nurses spend too much time focused on care coordination and paperwork tasks, which takes away from the energy they're able to devote to their patients. Our new Digital Nursing team will help reduce these administrative burdens on bedside nurses and get back to doing what they love - caring for others."

The Digital Nursing program is also in keeping with AHN's and Highmark Health's "Living Health" care model - using the latest technologies to provide more efficient, more effective care while also promoting clinician wellness and joy in practice, according to Ashis Barad, MD, AHN's Chief Digital Information Officer. As the Digital Nursing program grows, responsibilities could also expand to include charting and active patient monitoring.

"We want our nurses to practice at the top of their licenses," Dr. Barad said. "Our Digital Nursing team allows our bedside nurses to do just that. In the process, we are transforming the nursing profession, establishing AHN as a destination for nursing professionals, and setting new workplace and flexibility standards for our industry."

To learn more about nursing careers at AHN, please visit Nursing Careers - at Allegheny Health Network | Highmark Health Careers.