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Houston Methodist is Playing the Long Game With Virtual Nursing

Analysis  |  By Eric Wicklund  
   June 28, 2024

The health system, participating in the HealthLeaders Virtual Nursing Mastermind program, sees the innovative program as just one part of a lasting ‘connected care’ digital health transformation strategy.

At Houston Methodist, virtual care is ingrained into care delivery, and virtual nursing is part of the connected care process, rather than some shiny new thing. The trick, say health system leaders, is to combine short-term ROI that shows financial benefits with long-term results that demonstrate true value-based care.

Stave Klahn, Houston Methodist’s System Clinical Director for Virtual Medicine, says the virtual nursing program was launched in June 2022, and now comprises 35 nurses and 30 FTEs across 1,400 beds in seven hospitals. The program, he says, includes many KPIs, with an understanding that each little change in the process of care can contribute to value down the road.

“We really focus heavily on time durations of each activity that we do,” he says. And to get results, one looks at the “so many feeder things that lead up to that.”

Houston Methodist is one of a dozen health systems across the country that participated in the HealthLeaders Virtual Nursing Mastermind program, which consisted of three virtual roundtable and a two-day live event this past week in Atlanta. The goal of the program is to foster intensive discussions around virtual nursing, diving into what makes a program work, how to overcome challenges to sustainability, and what metrics to track to measure success or identify pain points.

Klahn and Sarah Pletcher, MD, MHCDS, Houston Methodist’s SVP and Executive Medical Director for Strategic Innovation, say the program started with the intention of improving nurse well-being by fine-tuning workflows, and added goals from that point. Alongside addressing admission and discharge times, key elements of a patient’s length of stay, they’re looking at care coordination and management and documentation compliance.

Analytics and reporting are part of the process, Klahn says, because “you’ve got to demonstrate ROI early on.”

Pletcher says the program has to be flexible and nimble. While health system leadership is focused on reducing costs and saving money, virtual nursing programs should be showing off a mixture of hard and soft ROI—appealing to the hearts and minds as well as the wallets. And always be ready to try new things.

“You may get credit for helping with something in the beginning but then a year later people forget or are looking for new value,” she says.

Houston Methodist’s program is one of the more advanced in the country, with a dedicated virtual nursing workforce (Klahn says they look for nurses with at least two years of experience and a wide range of backgrounds) and a central virtual operations center, as well as opportunities for virtual nurses to work from home. They’re also in the final stage of installing wall-mounted technology in all of their patient rooms and using wearables to track patient vital signs.

Klahn says it’s important to include the nurses in each phase of planning a virtual nursing service, and show them the value of virtual nursing so that they’ll support it. That includes clearly identifying the roles for both virtual and floor nurses. ’Customers’ of any new care models like virtual services do notice when they’re included in the design process, and they’re more comfortable with suggesting tweaks and new ideas for making processes more efficient.

The HealthLeaders Mastermind series is an exclusive series of calls and events with healthcare executives. This Virtual Nursing Mastermind series features ideas, solutions, and insights on exceling your virtual nursing program. Please join the community at our LinkedIn page.

To inquire about participating in an upcoming Mastermind series or attending a HealthLeaders Exchange event, email us at

Eric Wicklund is the associate content manager and senior editor for Innovation at HealthLeaders.


Houston Methodist ‘s virtual nursing program, launched in 2022, now comprises 35 nurses and 30 FTEs covering 1,400 beds across seven hospitals.

The program collects a variety of metrics to measure sustainability, including discharge times, patient length of stay, and nurse and patient satisfaction.

The key to success is creating a nimble platform that can integrate new KPIs and services to adjust to the changing needs of the health system.

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