Lovelace Medical Center starts using virtual nurses

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — John Donga has been a registered nurse for over a decade, basically walking marathons every day.

“I tore my meniscus and hurt my knee and a lot of different ways,” Donga said.

But after his injury, he could barely walk at all.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do. And at that point, they moved me over to one call, which is, you know, a desk job,” he said.

That was nice, but John missed his patients.

“As scary as that might seem, we looked at that as a tremendous opportunity, because it gave us the opportunity to be at the forefront and then write the playbook to develop it,” said Derrick Cuenca, Lovelace Medical Center and Lovelace Heart Hospital CEO.

He’s talking about virtual nursing. Lovelace is one of the few hospitals in the country using it, and now John is one of the first virtual nurses in the country, helping out in the emergency room at Lovelace Medical Center in Albuquerque.

The program wants to help the nationwide nursing shortage, so how does it work?

“The biggest thing I’m doing is answering questions,” said John.

But there’s not someone watching you 24/7 on camera, it’s only when you want a check-in, and so far, patients have been liking it.

John said during the week, he had a patient who had a stroke, and wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything because stroke patients have a high choking risk factor. She couldn’t have her morning coffee and was very upset.

“I was able to take the time and explain it, walk her through the process. So, she understood why she couldn’t have her morning coffee. And when I was done, she felt much better about it,” said John.

He helped her from his office virtually, while she was in the emergency room.

Scenarios like these can free up time for bedside nurses and keep expertise like John’s around.

“I’m excited that when I’m in a hospital bed, and there’s a virtual nurse doing a lot more than I ever thought ever dreamt of. And knowing that I was on the cutting edge knowing that I was there trying to help people,” he said.