Telehealth use increased significantly at nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, but more training and increased staffing are needed to improve it, a new study has found.

Researchers from the University of Missouri Sinclair School of Nursing and Columbia University School of Nursing investigated the implementation of telehealth in nursing homes amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. They conducted a secondary analysis of data from a national survey of more than 200 nursing home administrators to explore changes in telehealth use in two consecutive years between 2019-2021. They then conducted semi-structured interviews with administrators and clinicians to assess differences in implementation, based on the extent of telehealth use.

Overall, the study found that 64% of nursing homes reported higher telehealth use in year two compared to year one, with 32% reporting a decline in telehealth use.

The authors indicated that clinicians, policymakers and other nursing home stakeholders should look for ways to facilitate telehealth implementation to improve healthcare quality and improve patient safety.

“Respondents suggest training, adaptation of work processes to support communication, and restructuring teams and tasks are factors that could improve usability and sustainability of telehealth in nursing homes,” they wrote.

The researchers also said that nursing homes need to eliminate barriers for staff to use telehealth in their patient interactions. These include billing issues, lack of interoperability and inadequate staffing. The study found none of the nursing homes surveyed reported adding staff to accommodate for the increased use of telehealth.

The study found that adding staff responsibilities related to telehealth, without providing the necessary staffing, could lead to increased staff stress and burnout. “Minimizing staff burden associated with telehealth is an imperative and should be examined in future work,” the authors wrote.

The study appeared in the Aug. 30 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.