Patient Access

It’s Personal: One Woman’s Journey from Health Scare to VP of Virtual Care

Providing virtual care to a patient

Wendy Diebert, EMBA, BSN, RNMy journey to advocating for virtual care began from the patient perspective. A near-death health scare brought me into the ER at the age of 17. I was there for eight weeks and four surgeries. During that experience, I learned a lot about what patients go through. It was then that I decided the next steps in my healthcare journey would take me from the patient bed to the bedside so I could help care for others.

Shortly thereafter I dove into nursing. I became a neurology intensive care unit (ICU) nurse where I worked at the bedside for 20 years. As manager of the ICU/neurosurgery unit, I learned how to engage families and visitors. During this time, my father was diagnosed with cancer. He lived in a small town in Illinois and had to travel to St. Louis for chemotherapy and radiation. His chemotherapy and radiation treatments were on opposite sides of the building. His entire experience was difficult to navigate. This sent me on my search for ways to make healthcare easier for patients.

From there, I took a leap of faith and made the jump to health IT. I began working on a patient medication safety project. My pivot from a single host-site to a health system with 10 locations introduced me to healthcare implementations across multiple locations and states. I later moved into a teleICU operations role.

The organization I worked for began implementing teleICU services across 350 beds. We monitored ICU patients 24/7 with critical care nurses and intensivists using real-time data feeds and two-way audio/video capabilities into every room. This broadened my understanding of tech, integrating with EHRs, vital sign monitors and building workflows to bring care groups together, focused on the same patients. I also learned the ins and outs of cultivating adoption and keeping clinical staff engaged on both sides of the camera. Perhaps most importantly, I learned what virtual care can do. We went on to develop a telestroke program next and things really took off from there. We grew to having 70+ telehealth programs across six states. This led to the creation of an all-virtual care center that enables 160+ clinicians to care for thousands of patients remotely 24/7.

Once the virtual care center was operational, I started my own consulting company so I could help other healthcare organizations recreate the model.

Advocating the Value of Virtual Care

Virtual care is my passion. It can serve as an early warning system, promote preventative/proactive care and increase access by bringing healthcare closer to—and into—the patient home. I’ve learned many valuable lessons during my career. Every healthcare organization has different needs, and few have the time and resources to rip and replace existing technologies. Finding success really comes down to leveraging what you have and tailoring your approach to have a bigger, sustainable impact.

A well-planned virtual operations center can become the heart of an organization by creating a multitude of efficiencies, including:

  • Reduction in costs
  • Improved outcomes
  • Transparency of work activities across departments
  • Standardization of care
  • Expansion of services to hard-to-reach patients

It’s important to leverage the EHR, applications, devices and tools you already have to allow telehealth programs to grow organically from within and phase out legacy systems over time. Strive to standardize on one universal telehealth platform that creates ease-of-use across the continuum of care, and access for clinicians and patients from anywhere within or outside the health system. Avoid disparate platforms that are difficult for IT to manage and end-users to navigate.

In all telehealth programs, audio-visual experience is key. Identify solutions that offer a high-quality experience and are easy to use by patients and clinicians. Video conferencing is like TV broadcasting. Take time to educate clinicians on how to best position and present themselves and their facility’s brand, how to troubleshoot issues quickly and how to effectively communicate with empathy virtually. 

Marry tech with established clinical processes to ensure that programs stick. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to build a strong relationship between your IT department and clinical teams to foster collaboration. These groups must understand and share the common ground, common language and common tools between them. Leverage IT and clinical best practices—not my opinion versus your opinion—and follow the industry-standard path forward.

My niche as a half-techie, half-nurse has served me well during my career. I’m fortunate to understand each side and be able to plug my nursing knowledge into the IT world or—vice versa—use my IT knowledge to articulate to clinicians why something may not work as they have designed.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog or by commenters are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HIMSS or its affiliates.

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Updated November 29, 2019