Patient sitter, meet telesitter

UCHealth uses telemedicine to improve patient, staff safety
Feb. 17, 2016
Lorrie Henecke, clinical nurse specialist for UCHealth Northern Colorado Medical Services, directed the program’s implementation along with Clinical Director Kim Sell. Photo by Kati Blocker, UCHealth.

Telemedicine is helping medical professionals across the country provide quality care — regardless of the patient’s location.  Next month, Medical Center of the Rockies (MCR) will begin using the same emerging technology to improve patient safety and staff efficiency.

Patient sitter, meet telesitter.

“This program is unique because the technology goes to where the patient is,” said Lorrie Henecke, clinical nurse specialist for Medical Services in UCHealth Northern Colorado. “Having telesitters will not only improve patient safety and reduce falls, but also be a huge cost savings to the system.”

The telesitter program works like this: Nursing staff identifies patients who could benefit from the technology based on a detailed algorithm. The most common situations are patients who are confused or unsteady enough to be at high risk for falls, dislodging equipment or impulsive behavior, as well as for those who may become violent. A highly sensitive mobile camera is then placed in such patients’ rooms, allowing 24/7 communication with a certified nursing assistant, dual trained as a video monitoring technician (VMT), from a remote location.

The telehealth cameras have the capacity to transmit real-time, two-way visual and auditory signals, allowing VMTs and patients to communicate seamlessly and improving the hospital experience for both parties, Henecke said. If, for example, the patient requests assistance or the technician deems that he or she needs help, staff on the nursing unit is immediately alerted to enter the room, or the technician can ask the patient if something is needed.

“With this process, our video monitor technicians can watch up to 12 people at once, so that’s an elimination of the 11 one-to-one safety partners (patient sitters) we are currently using,” said Henecke, who directed the program’s implementation along with Kim Sell, clinical director of UCHealth Northern Colorado Medical Services.

This should increase patient and staff satisfaction because nursing assistants won’t need to be pulled from units to fulfill the safety partner role, said Tara Shaw, nurse manager on MCR’s medical floor. “We’ll be able to keep them out on the unit where we need them and utilize this technology instead.”

There may still be situations where a safety partner is needed, but even then, the technology is helpful, Henecke said. “If a patient is deemed a high enough safety risk to themselves or others, a safety partner may sit in the room in addition to using the monitor to ensure the well being of the safety partner,” she said.

Another benefit to the program is the CNAs’ duel training.

“Staff now has more flexibility in their roles when they are scheduled to work because video monitoring techs and CNAs are able to perform each other’s duties,” said Shaw.

Henecke added, “The person who’s watching the patient understands the process on the floor, and the aides on the floor understand the process of the VMTs. Because they work in both roles, they collaborate better.”

The program will kick off with up to four monitors available for use on MCR’s third floor medical unit. And because on any given day, Poudre Valley Hospital (PVH) or MCR may have multiple patients requiring safety partners, the financial benefits will be immediate.

“We currently have an average of four to six safety partners at each facility on any given day, and a few weeks ago we had 12 (at one time),” Henecke said.

She estimates UCHealth will realize significant cost savings for the first year, and she said she hopes to expand the program to as many as 12 cameras in use simultaneously at both MCR and PVH.

“We needed an alternative to one-on-one sitters to keep patients safe and to be fiscally responsible,” said Henecke. “Having a telesitter program was inevitable because of the improved outcomes it will lead to as well as the fantastic cost savings it will provide.”

About the author

Andrew Kensley has worked as a freelance writer in northern Colorado since 2009. In addition to his work for UCHealth, he is a regular contributor of essays, features and the News & Notes section of Fort Collins Magazine. He also has written numerous cover profiles, Q&As, and travel and wellness features for Mind+Body Magazine and the Fort Collins Coloradoan, the newspaper in which his parenting column, “Wee Wisdom,” ran Sundays from 2009 to 2013. His travel essays have been featured in the family travel website,  

Andrew published his first novel, “Seeking Blue,” in 2014, and his short fiction has appeared in the University of Wyoming’s literary journal, Owen Wister Review.

Andrew was born in Montreal, Canada, and has lived in Fort Collins since 2004. A 1996 graduate of McGill University, he continues to work as a physical therapist, helping people regain their mobility, confidence, and functional abilities. He speaks French, Spanish and Hebrew, and loves to travel.