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Employing Technology to Aid in Patient Safety

Dr. Larry Antonucci's Blog Posts


March 1, 2023

The Virtual Patient Observation Program

Some hospitalized patients require more monitoring and supervision than others do. It could be that they are a fall risk, have an altered mental state or confusion, or even have dementia. Hospitals and health systems across the country have employed safety technicians who sit in the patients rooms to watch them and ensure their safety. Challenges in staffing these roles led us at Lee Health to innovate, and now we are using technology to keep a constant close eye on our high-risk hospitalized patients.

Virtual Patient Observation (VPO) started as a pilot program at HealthPark Medical Center before expanding to the other hospital campuses and Lee Health Coconut Point. With this program, a lead virtual safety technician wheels a camera cart into the room, and a virtual safety technician watches a live feed of the patient's room. The camera doesn’t record, and can pivot if the nurse says the patient needs privacy. Two-way audio and video allows the virtual safety technician to communicate with the patient in real-time, redirecting them if they are trying to get out of bed, for example. If the patient does not take directions and looks like he or she is going to get out of bed without assistance, the virtual safety technician can sound an alarm, and the nursing staff on the unit can run to the patient’s room.

“As a nurse, VPO is tremendously helpful,” explains Kayla Smith, MSN, RN, charge nurse, 6 West, HealthPark Medical Center. “Especially when I’m rounding on other patients, VPO gives us another set of eyes on the patient. I have had times where I hear the alarm and the patient is already almost off the bed, so if the patient didn’t have that VPO, they would have fallen.”

Carmine “CJ” Scerbo, BSN, RN, PCCN is the nursing director on 6 West at HealthPark Medical Center and a big proponent of VPO. “6 West is a progressive care unit (PCU),” CJ explains. “We’re a high acuity unit, and we see a broad array of patients, some of whom are confused or have multiple comorbidities. We started using VPO in March 2022, and since then, we have seen a decrease in our falls and falls with injuries. There are other things that we have done to help reduce falls, but I believe VPO has significantly helped our patient population."

Virtual Patient Observation has expanded the capacity of the safety technicians because each virtual safety technician can monitor multiple patients, as many as eight at one time, which means more patients who need this level of care can get it.

The bedside safety technician was a valuable team member who helped keep our patients safe but was limited by the original one-to-one ratio, and the staffing and recruitment challenges meant others from the health care team (including certified nursing assistants) were asked to help fill that role. Now, using this technology, we can keep our patients monitored and safe and ensure everyone on the team can fulfill their appropriate responsibilities.

CJ and Kayla said that they appreciate the VPO program for the value it brings to their workflow and the safety of their patients. They agree, too, that the VPO has brought peace of mind to the families of their patients because they know someone is always watching their loved one, ensuring their safety when they can’t be there.

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