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Nursing students training for future of virtual health care


Tue, Dec 15th 2015 03:40 pm

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

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, Ph.D., RN, clinical professor and assistant dean of the master's and doctor of nursing practice program. She is joined by Marsha Lewis, Ph.D., 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 going 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," Austin-Ketch said. "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, Austin-Ketch said.

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 who 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," Austin-Ketch, said noting 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 said 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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