Changes in Nursing: Telemedicine

Since early spring, some patients in the UC San Diego Health System’s emergency department may have noticed a change. Instead of spending hours in the emergency room, patients were greeted by their doctor on a TV screen miles away. Instead of sitting face-to-face with a doctor, images of a doctor appeared; transmitted from their home, private office, or vacation spot.

This hospital became the first in California to participate in a pilot study focused on using telemedicine as a way to decrease overcrowding in emergency departments. Though telemedicine is not a new technology, it is new to the ER setting.

The pilot program took years to launch, and nurses play an important role. Since nurses act as the go-between for onsite patients and off-site physicians, it is the responsibility of nurses to assess the condition of patients in the waiting room. Patients with less emergent conditions, who typically would also experience lengthy wait times, would be selected to meet with a doctor via telecommunication.

While doctors participating in telemedicine could potentially see any patient, patients with minor issues, like ankle pain, back pain and minor scrapes and pains would be ideal. While patients are being seen my doctors participating in telemedicine, nurses may have to manipulate a handheld camera so the physician an examine skin or throat problems, among others.

So far, about seven nurses and ten doctors are involved in the pilot studies. The technology is incredibly promising and, according to staff nurses, the technology wasn’t difficult to learn. If telemedicine proves to be successful, more and more nurses and nursing students may find themselves working in settings where technology plays an increasingly more important role.