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Virtual nursing in aged care – what does that look like?

Since the world experienced the COVID-19 pandemic, our health and aged care industries have had to adapt and change rapidly to continue providing care to those who need it while remaining socially distant.

Last updated: November 29th 2022
Virtual nursing can be integrated into the everyday care of older Australians living in residential aged care. [Source: AdobeStock]

Virtual nursing can be integrated into the everyday care of older Australians living in residential aged care. [Source: AdobeStock]

Key points:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has seen the use of technology in the aged care and health sectors become a big part of caring for older people, including the use of virtual nursing
  • Virtual nursing does not replace an in-person nurse but supports them by doing nursing jobs that do not require them to be physically in an aged care facility
  • Your facility will likely have a designated smartphone or tablet to connect you with your virtual nursing team via video call

Technology advancements played a big part in keeping older people connected to their aged care nurses, healthcare practitioners and specialists when these staff members contracted the virus.

As the aged care sector grapples with chronic shortages of nurses and carers, the role of technology in facilitating care will likely become more common in aged care, particularly in rural and remote areas.

So what is virtual nursing and how will it deliver the care you need?

The future of nursing

Virtual models of care have already been seen in the community for a while in the form of telehealth phone or video doctors’ appointments, remote monitoring of residents and even ‘robot nurses’ to support in-person care.

In aged care, virtual nursing works concurrently with in-person care to address a variety of residents’ concerns without having to be there in-person.

For older people, especially vulnerable aged care residents, it is important to avoid high-traffic places or seeing other people that have a high risk of getting you sick.

Particularly in residential aged care, the COVID-19 pandemic showed that once an illness was brought into a facility, it was hard to stop other people from contracting it.

This was the reason virtual nursing and other virtual health options became available to aged care facilities and the wider community.

During the pandemic, while no visitors were allowed into aged care facilities and the need to social distance was high, virtual nursing ensured the facility could carry on when staff contracted COVID-19 or a number of residents became ill.

By taking on some of the non-hands-on elements of care – such as consulting with residents, medication reminders and organising referrals – in-person nurses at the facility have more time to meet your physical needs. The idea is that a virtual nurse would be available 24/7 to take care of these non-hands-on needs when required.

These nurses will also be able to use the same technology to connect you with family virtually who may not be close by to discuss your care, such as if your children live interstate or overseas.

General Practitioners (GPs) and other specialist doctors now also offer telehealth services, which means you can access your doctors virtually too.

This allows you to be seen by a doctor or specialists that would physically be too far away for you to see, meaning you may be seen and have your questions answered quicker than if they visited you at your facility.

Accessing virtual nursing

Based on your needs, virtual nursing allows you to stay where you are while having access to a wide range of doctors and specialists that you can see virtually without them having to enter your facility.

In some instances where you would usually go to an emergency department for a consultation, you can now receive a clinical assessment remotely.

Virtual care is delivered through collaboration between senior nursing staff offsite and staff in your facility and will help you navigate your virtual clinical consultations.

Care staff in your facility will often use a dedicated smartphone or tablet to allow you to video call the virtual nursing team who will then provide a consultation.

When it comes to any decisions to make after these consults, you, your family and the care team at your facility will work together to figure out the next steps which may include follow-up appointments or organising prescriptions.

Virtual nursing can offer you benefits such as:

  • Being able to receive care closer to your home, your family and your community
  • Convenience and more choice
  • More consistent care by having timely access to services
  • Access to specialist services that may not be in your area
  • Ability to connect with loved ones through technology

Virtual nursing and other forms of virtual healthcare has been accepted as part of the future of the aged care and health industries in order to meet workforce shortages and provide a higher level of quality care.

While virtual nursing cannot replace the role of an in-person nurse, it can help support a facility workforce by completing various administrative jobs and consultations to free up more time for onsite nurses and staff so they can address the physical needs of their residents.

Have you accessed virtual care while living in aged care? Let us know in the comments below.

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