Nursing students training for future of virtual health care

Professor speaking with students.

UB nursing clinical professor Tammy Austin-Ketch, left, instructing nursing students on telehealth technology. Photo: Donna Tyrpak

UB Nursing program preparing faculty, students to use telehealth technology in underserved rural areas

Release Date: December 14, 2015

“The face of health care is changing rapidly in the United States. It is paramount that the nursing students who are educated at UB receive the most current, cutting-edge and technologically explicit education that is possible.”
Tammy Austin-Ketch, PhD, RN, clinical professor and assistant dean of the master’s and Doctor of Nursing Practice Program

BUFFALO, N.Y. – The rise of virtual health-care technology could soon allow patients to receive checkups from the comfort of their living rooms, eliminating the need to travel to a hospital or doctor’s office.

To prepare the next generation of nurses for this technology, the University at Buffalo School of Nursing recently received a one-year SUNY High Needs grant to train nursing students in telehealth, which allows patients to use live video and self-diagnostic devices to receive distant care.

The funds will be used to equip students and faculty with GlobalMed Transportable Exam Systems (TES), mobile telehealth technology that can be used to check blood pressure, help diagnose illnesses, prescribe medications and more.

The initiative, “Telehealth Competencies for Advanced Nurse Practitioners,” is led by Tammy Austin-Ketch, PhD, RN, clinical professor and assistant dean of the master’s and Doctor of Nursing Practice Program, and Marsha Lewis, PhD, RN, professor and dean of the School of Nursing.

The program will train more than 50 graduate students and 10 nursing faculty members.  Proficiency in use of the TES equipment can be completed in a semester, and many of those trained will graduate in May, 2016.

The program will survey graduates to track the number who go on to work in rural areas, as well as gather data on their professional experience with telehealth technology.

“The face of health care is changing rapidly in the United States,” says Austin-Ketch. “It is paramount that the nursing students who are educated at UB receive the most current, cutting-edge and technologically explicit education that is possible.”

TES allows patients to remotely consult with health-care professionals over live video using a Wi-Fi or broadband Internet connection. The systems – no larger than a suitcase – come equipped with several instruments normally found in a clinical facility, which patients can use under the guidance of health-care providers to perform examinations.

UB nursing students and faculty will use a portable system, which will allow students to travel to patients in rural areas, a population that is vastly underserved by health-care professionals.

Although telemedicine, a clinical-focused form of telehealth, has existed for decades, the systems are not widely used due to a lack of training, the upfront costs to install the technology and primary care provider attitudes toward virtual health care, says Austin-Ketch.

In Erie County, there are more than 1,100 nurse practitioners; however, in the seven surrounding counties, the number of advanced-practice nurses range between 20 and 150, according to the New York State Education Department.

The initiative will work with Western New York clinical sites to recruit recently discharged patients that are in need of house calls.

After faculty and students receive training with TES equipment, students will travel to patients’ homes with the equipment to guide them through examinations. The nursing school will house a video command center where faculty can supervise students and help evaluate patients over a live video stream.

“We want students to be comfortable going into patients’ homes; it’s different than caring for a person at a doctor’s office or a hospital. They may expect patients to live a certain way and later realize they don’t have access to many basic needs,” says Austin-Ketch, noting that many patients in rural areas don’t have access to adequate transportation or are physically unable to travel.

“We hope introducing students to these underserved areas will lead to an increase in the number of graduates who work with these populations.”

Austin-Ketch says she and Lewis also hope to expand the program to include telehealth training for mental health nurses to address the void of psychiatric care providers in Erie County.

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