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Can Virtual Nursing Help Hospitals Address Workforce Challenges?

Analysis  |  By Eric Wicklund  
   September 16, 2023

OSF HealthCare is one of several health systems launching a virtual nursing program aimed at improving nurse workflows and addressing workforce shortages.

When OSF HealthCare encountered problems hiring nurses for its med-surg units, executives decided to launch a virtual nursing program to fill the gaps and improve nurse morale and efficiency.

"That's one of the hardest positions to fill," says Kelly George, the Illinois-based health system's vice president of performance improvement. "And we were seeing that a lot of our nurses [were dealing with] a heavy workload. We decided that we would try anything we could do to better support the staff that we have."

With workforce shortages across the board, from nurses to doctors to IT and support staff, health system leaders are leveraging a number of strategies to improve the workplace, reduce stress and turnover, and entice more people into the industry.

HealthLeaders is convening a select number of the industry's top decision-makers next week in Nashville to address clinical and financial approaches to workforce shortages. The two-day HealthLeaders Teams Exchange will feature panel discussions on four topics: Strategic workforce planning, recruiting and retaining clinical talent, workforce innovation and technology, and physician alignment and partnerships (including nurse staffing and scheduling).

Workforce stabilization, especially in the nursing ranks, is top-of-mind for many healthcare executives. According to a survey of about 780 healthcare professionals conducted in April by Joslin Insight on behalf of telehealth company AvaSure, the two most important metrics for chief nursing officers using virtual nursing platforms are nurse satisfaction and retention (86%) and improving the workload for current staff (82%).

OSF HealthCare is one of several health systems across the country to explore virtual nursing platforms to stabilize the workforce (among them are Jefferson Health in Philadelphia, Michigan-based Trinity Health, and Nashville's Vanderbilt Health, all of which recently announced new programs). George says OSF looked to other health systems for guidance and found that many are at the same stage of development.

"It's still very early for everyone," she says.

Indeed, inpatient telemedicine programs were popular during the pandemic, as health systems sought to separate infected patient populations from doctors and nurses to curtail the spread of the virus. Virtual platforms were also effective in monitoring multiple patients, rooms, or even departments from one location, like a nurse's station, giving hospital administrators a means of doing more with a depleted staff.

The challenge for healthcare decision-makers with these platforms is ROI. Telemedicine programs aren't exactly inexpensive, and CEOs and CFOs need to see the hard benefits to a new program before signing off.

At the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) in Charleston, officials tested a virtual nursing service about a year ago, says Emily Warr, MSN, RN, administrator for the health system's Center for Telehealth. That program was geared toward helping new nurses learn the ropes.

"We learned from that endeavor that it's not enough," Warr says. "It has to be much more complex and bring more value."

So MUSC pivoted, creating a platform designed not only to remotely monitor patients in their rooms but to help with administrative tasks, from charting in the EMR to onboarding and discharges. That program will debut soon in four of the health system's rural hospitals, where the nursing ranks are especially strained.

"This program can't just focus on workforce economics or quality [of care]," she says. "One is not enough. There has to be a quality component. We've got to impact patient care."

At OSF HealthCare, George says the virtual nursing program will be closely watched by executives, and that clinical outcomes have to be included in the ROI, alongside nurse retention and satisfaction.

"We recognize that we have to be able to show the value," she says.

Kelly George is a contributor to the HealthLeaders Teams Exchange Community. HealthLeaders Exchange is an executive community for sharing ideas, solutions, and insights. Please join the community at To inquire about attending a HealthLeaders Exchange, email us at

“We were seeing that a lot of our nurses [were dealing with] a heavy workload. We decided that we would try anything we could do to better support the staff that we have.”

Eric Wicklund is the associate content manager and senior editor for Innovation, Technology, and Pharma for HealthLeaders.


Health systems are turning to virtual nursing programs to deal with shortages on nurses and improve inpatient care management.

Some say these programs must measure clinical outcomes as well as nurse satisfaction and retention to be sustainable.

Virtual nursing to address workforce issues will be one of the topics discussed at the HealthLeaders Teams Exchange, September 21–22 in Nashville.

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