How the COVID-19 [Coronavirus] Underscores Why Nursing Education Should Be Offering Tele-Learning and Tele-Health Experiences

By Elizabeth Speakman  

As the US braces for the expansion of COVID-19 (Coronavirus), schools and many organizations are altering their traditional delivery methods and using technology-based platforms. Institutions, including those with nursing programs, have been conducting emergency sessions and professional development series to help faculty/employees convert traditional modalities into technology modalities. The question is: Should nursing education have been better prepared? Have traditional teaching techniques, especially in prelicensure education, caused us to be outdated?  

The fact that care delivery today, and certainly in the future, is and will be done in some matter, shape, or form through virtual platforms is no longer a supposition. Federal agencies and many states are quickly adopting legislation to implement or expand the use of telehealth in healthcare delivery systems across the US, and, in the very near future, telehealth will be considered the norm versus the oddity. The current pandemic is case in point. Telehealth is now one of the strategies used to maintain status and supplement the shortage of healthcare providers in certain regions of the US.

But, are our nurse graduates able to move easily into these modalities? Have we offered enough learning opportunities to prepare them to deliver safe and quality care via technology platforms? Nochomovitz and Sharma (2018) urged early adopters and thought leaders to be prepared to work together and develop formalized curricula and training so that the health care professional “virtualist” will have a substantial impact on care delivery.

Clearly, all health care educators, as well as nurse educators, have recognized the need to increase these learning opportunities, but akin to the resurgence of interprofessional education and collaborative practice, the migration to providing these opportunities has been slow. So, how has the evolution of COVID-19 underscored why nursing education needs to include telelearning and telehealth learning opportunities? Simply put, we must prepare a workforce-ready nurse who can deliver care in virtual health environments. Slovensky, Malvey, and Neigel (2017) cautioned that educators, in a relatively short period of time, will need to build competencies in telemedicine technologies in order to achieve desirable patient and organizational outcomes. That time is now.

The literature is replete with articles indicating that today’s students learn best in environments that are technology rich. But how has nursing education capitalized on these skills and prepared students to deliver care as virtualists? For the most part, I would venture we have not. The conundrum may be that nurse educators themselves lack formal education and/or clinical experience and feel ill prepared to develop telelearning and telehealth curricula.

One solution could be the use of virtual platforms like ZOOM™, which is relatively inexpensive and readily available. The ZOOM platform can provide telelearning experiences during the early part of the nursing curriculum with students engaging in case study analysis and care planning, and then again using ZOOM-HIPPA™ for telehealth experiences in the latter part of the nursing curriculum with live patient encounters or standardized patients. Students with no imposed physical boundaries will simply log on to a pre-set URL and begin to plan and provide care.

Serendipitously, virtual telelearning opportunities can also alleviate the logistical challenges associated with in-person clinical experiences, the challenge facing all nursing programs today as schools are closing due to the coronavirus pandemic. Since both telelearning and telehealth experiences can also be done interprofessionally, they can be advantageous in easing the angst of logistics associated with IPE, since the use of a virtual platform such as ZOOM or ZOOM HIPPA allows students to remain in place. Finally, it is important to note that nursing education has a long and established history of adapting to public health emergencies and meeting societal needs.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 has set new boundaries and expectations and it’s time for nursing education to re-think and re-conceptualize how and what curricula best serve the student and society. Nurse educators must be proactive and prepare students to work in 21st century diverse and dynamic technology-rich health care systems. This pandemic has certainly highlighted that traditional nursing education may just not be good enough!

References

Nochomovitz, M., & Sharma, R. (2018, February 6). Is it time for a new medical specialty? The medical virtualist. Journal of the American Medical Association, 319(5), 437-438.

Slovensky, D. J., Malvey, D. H., & Neigel, A. R. (2017). A model for mHealth skills training for clinicians: Meeting the future now. mHealth, 3, 24. doi: 10.21037/mhealth.2017.05.03

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