Practice nurses as the telehealth change agent

The Australian Practice Nurses Association (APNA) has released the first three of nine online learning modules to assist nurses and midwives to understand and establish telehealth services in their practice setting.

The online education package has been designed by the Nursing and Midwifery Telehealth Consortia, a Commonwealth-funded group comprising of APNA, the Australian Nursing Federation, the remote health organisation CRANAplus, the Australian College of Nurse Practitioners and the Australian College of Midwives.

APNA's project manager, Shoshana Silverman, said the modules are being released progressively over the next month. “At the moment we have modules one, two and three live on the APNA website and the idea is that by the end of May, the whole education package will be hosted on all the consortia partner websites,” Ms Silverman said.

Part of the funding has also gone towards attendance at healthcare conferences and events to raise awareness of telehealth, and also to provide site visits to over 100 general practices for face-to-face support.

Ms Silverman said the main objective of the project is to raise awareness and knowledge around the use of telehealth consultations but also to increase the uptake of telehealth in general practices and healthcare settings using nurses and midwives as the change agent.

“These are the people who are going to come in and make it happen,” she said.

Nurses who sign up to the free education modules before April 19 will go into a draw to win an iPad, and completion of all nine modules will make nurses eligible for CPD points and hours.

Ms Silverman said some of the modules are quite short and would only take five or six minutes, with a longer technology module estimated to take a person new to telehealth about half an hour to complete.

“[The technology module] explains your requirements for telehealth and what specific equipment you will need, as well as the basic considerations that you would need to go through on behalf of your practice before you start offering telehealth to patients,” she said.

“It talks about some of the technical requirements like testing the bandwidth speed and what kind of equipment you can use, whether Skype is a good option for you or whether you need a dedicated video conferencing suite.

“It also talks about the processes that you would need to implement in your practice if you want to start offering telehealth, having a checklist of things that you run through and patient information sheets and appointment follow-ups to make sure that everything runs smoothly and also what happens if it doesn't work. Technology often doesn't work so you need to have a back-up plan.”

Ms Silverman said early feedback had been excellent, and that the co-ordination of specific appointments between specialists, nurses, GPs and the patient didn't seem to be as big a problem as expected.

“It's more the fact that it is human nature, learning how to embrace change, and it's quite a different method of care that is being set up here. Originally the Commonwealth funded 24 other bodies so they were all funded to do different things, as they had different audiences. Some people are GPs, some specialists … we've been focusing on nurses and midwives and there's been a pretty positive outlook. People can see that it might make their jobs more interesting and give them new skills.”

She said there was real interest in telehealth from nurses, particularly those working in rural and remote areas. “A lot of [remote nurses] are already doing it so we are not really introducing anything new, just widening the scope of it all.”

The rollout of high-speed broadband, including new satellites for remote areas and fixed wireless for rural, is sure to improve the uptake of telehealth, she said. “That is one of the things that is the biggest deterrents at the moment – people just not having adequate technology to make it happen.”

Nurses can sign up to the online learning modules on the APNA website.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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