From Beds to Bytes: Virtual Wards in Healthcare

Published: 13.06.2024 / Publication / Blog

The Finnish healthcare sector is facing rather big challenges. The ageing population and a high number of people with chronic diseases and disabilities, paired with a decrease in healthcare professionals, has set high pressure on the Finnish healthcare sector. This calls for alternative solutions, and one possible solution, that has been pioneered in the United Kingdom as a response to the chronic and unsustainable high demand for hospital beds, is the use of virtual wards.

A virtual ward is a remote service enabled by health technology that helps patients to manage their health and care from home. Virtual wards allow patients to get hospital-level care safely and in, to the patient, familiar surroundings. This also frees up hospital beds for patients that need them more. Patients in a virtual ward are cared for by a team of professionals who can provide a range of tests and treatments, including monitoring vital signs, taking laboratory test and prescribing and administering medication, just as in the hospital but remotely. Virtual wards are often integrated as a complement to the existing care model (McGrail et al., 2017).

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of virtual wards showed an increase (Jalilian et al., 2024; Schultz et al., 2021), and their successes are still debated in some areas.  However, studies show that models for virtual wards are safe, accessible, and effective for the care of patients, especially within the ageing population, and to reduce unnecessary hospital admissions (Ferry et al., 2021; Jones & Carroll, 2014; Schultz et al., 2021). Particularly in the UK, virtual wards are developing rapidly and have shown potential to reduce primary care costs, but the focus must be on how virtual care is integrated into existing care environments (Jones & Carroll, 2014; Norman et al., 2023, McGrail et al., 2017).

The future nurse in focus

As technology rapidly evolves and the healthcare sector faces increasing pressures, virtual care is becoming an indispensable component. Educational institutions play a crucial role in developing competency-based programs and continuous education that is tailored to relevant health needs and global issues (Pepito & Locsin, 2019; World Health Organization., 2021). Considering the development and importance of health technology in care (Booth et al., 2021), healthcare professionals need to be equipped to handle future challenges, including increasing chronic diseases, multimorbidity, an aging population (Holmgren, 2017; State of Health in the EU, 2017; World Health Organization., 2021), and to provide care appropriately in response to future developments (e.g. virtual wards).

Studies show that healthcare professionals face challenges in keeping pace with the increasing implementation of health technology in care, and digital competencies have a significant impact on the decision-making process (Jedwab et al., 2021; Shaw Morawski & Liang, 2022). It is confirmed that nurses have a great need for further education in various areas, including improving their ability to assess patients’ health needs and provide health-promoting advice and recommendations to patients using e-health solutions (Taylor et al., 2021; Wangensteen et al., 2018).

At Arcada, we use multi-modal methods to create learning materials and courses contents to give students and future healthcare professionals knowledge and competencies that can be implemented in a virtual healthcare setting. The focus is not only on clinical competencies but also health informatics competencies and cutting-edge technologies such as e-health solutions, robotics and artificial intelligence. These competences serve as a core in the delivery of patient care through various digital platforms and e-health solutions, and for practices like conducting virtual patient assessments, managing medication treatments and caring for the patient virtually. Moreover, this will equip students with the competence to employ critical thinking, adopt a holistic view, and adhere to evidence-based practices to make informed clinical decisions and create personalised care plans for patients in virtual wards. This kind of innovative approach is integrated as a natural part into Arcada’s Patient Safety and Simulation Center (APSLC).  

The evidence based for the home hospital concept is extensive, but as so often, more research within virtual wards is needed, especially regarding guidance on patient selection and data protection. Research, evaluation and education must be integrated into the development process of virtual wards to ensure high-quality and patient-safe care (Norman et al., 2023).

This comprehensive education aims to prepare nursing students and future nurses for a dynamic healthcare landscape, ensuring readiness for the virtual care revolution. It also positions Arcada in the forefront of creating novel patient services and ethically sustainable competence development in Finland.

Pauleen Mannevaara, Ph.D. student, Senior lecturer in Health Care.

Lotta Eronen, Ph.D. student, Senior lecturer in Health Care.

Jonas Tana, Ph.D, Principal lecturer in Health Care.

References

Booth, R., Strudwick, G., McMurray, J., Chan, R., Cotton, K., & Cooke, S. (2021). The Future of Nursing Informatics in a Digitally-Enabled World. In P. Hussey & M. A. Kennedy (Eds.), Introduction to Nursing Informatics (pp. 395–417). Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-58740-6_16 External link 

Ferry, O. R., Moloney, E. C., Spratt, O. T., Whiting, G. F. M., & Bennett, C. J. (2021). A Virtual Ward Model of Care for Patients With COVID-19: Retrospective Single-Center Clinical Study. J Med Internet Res, 23(2), e25518. https://doi.org/10.2196/25518 External link 

Holmgren, J. (2017). Global nursing: Educating future nurses for tomorrow’s nursing care needs. In Nordic Journal of nursing research (Vol. 37, Issue 3, pp. 172–174). SAGE Publications Sage UK: London, England.

Jalilian, A., Sedda, L., Unsworth, A., & Farrier, M. (2024). Length of stay and economic sustainability of virtual ward care in a medium-sized hospital of the UK: a retrospective longitudinal study. BMJ open, 14(1), e081378.

Jedwab, R. M., Hutchinson, A. M., Manias, E., Calvo, R. A., Dobroff, N., Glozier, N., & Redley, B. (2021). Nurse Motivation, Engagement and Well-Being before an Electronic Medical Record System Implementation: A Mixed Methods Study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(5).

Jones, J., & Carroll, A. (2014). Hospital admission avoidance through the introduction of a virtual ward. British Journal of Community Nursing, 19(7), 330–334.

McGrail, K. M., Ahuja, M. A., & Leaver, C. A. (2017). Virtual Visits and Patient-Centered Care: Results of a Patient Survey and Observational Study. J Med Internet Res, 19(5), e177. https://doi.org/10.2196/jmir.7374 External link

Norman, G., Bennett, P., & Vardy, E. R. (2023). Virtual wards: a rapid evidence synthesis and implications for the care of older people. Age and Ageing, 52(1), afac319.

Pepito, J. A., & Locsin, R. (2019). Can nurses remain relevant in a technologically advanced future? International Journal of Nursing Sciences, 6(1), 106–110. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijnss.2018.09.013 External link

Schultz, K., Vickery, H., Campbell, K., Wheeldon, M., Barrett-Beck, L., & Rushbrook, E. (2021). Implementation of a virtual ward as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Australian Health Review, 45(4), 433-441.

Shaw Morawski, T., & Liang, M. Q. (2022). The TIGER Initiative: Global, Interprofessional Health Informatics Workforce Development. In U. H. Hübner, G. Mustata Wilson, T. S. Morawski, & M. J. Ball (Eds.), Nursing Informatics: A Health Informatics, Interprofessional and Global Perspective (pp. 581–602). Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-91237-6_38 External link

Taylor, I., Bing-Jonsson, P. C., Finnbakk, E., Wangensteen, S., Sandvik, L., & Fagerström, L. (2021). Development of clinical competence – a longitudinal survey of nurse practitioner students. BMC Nursing, 20(1), 130. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12912-021-00627-x External link

Wangensteen, S., Finnbakk, E., Adolfsson, A., Kristjansdottir, G., Roodbol, P., Ward, H., & Fagerström, L. (2018). Postgraduate nurses’ self-assessment of clinical competence and need for further training. A European cross-sectional survey. Nurse Education Today, 62, 101–106. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nedt.2017.12.020 External link  

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