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Telemental health simulation gives students a new learning experience

University of South Carolina College of Nursing exposes family nurse practitioner (FNP) students to the methods of telehealth through Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina Foundation’s health priority grant. The grant focuses on improving health care access, quality and value, and strengthening the workforce by providing didactic and clinical training in telemental health delivery. It is essential that FNP students have this capability when they enter clinical settings.

 What's at stake

  • All but two of South Carolina’s 46 counties are designated as Mental Health Professions Shortage Areas. 
  • Rural counties and those with higher levels of poverty face significantly greater shortages of mental health providers.  

A recent evaluation from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) found SC to have a large degree of population vulnerability as measured by substance use disorder prevalence, proximity to care, proportions of providers and poverty percentages. Because of mental health provider shortages there are also limited options for referral or very long wait times to be seen.

The learning experience  

Graduate students participated virtually in a simulated experience to diagnose and create a care plan for patients with mental health needs or challenges involving mental health service delivery. During one case scenario involving postpartum depression, students communicated online with a surrogate patient. The FNP students conducted a diagnostic interview, diagnosed the patient and then created their care plan.

Our training included an introduction to telehealth technology and telehealth etiquette, as well as an opportunity for students to practice with a real person, in a low-risk environment.

Dr. Beverly Baliko

College of Nursing Associate Professor De’Anna Cox is a FNP certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Depression and anxiety are two major mental health conditions she treats. Dr. Cox facilitates the participation of FNP students in the graduate nursing course, Management of Chronic Conditions.  

“Depression and anxiety run rampant in my practice. This simulation allows students to experience a telehealth encounter so when they get into a clinical situation, they have some familiarity with how to conduct one,” says Cox. 

A closer look

Dr. Beverly Bailko, associate professor and Dr. Phyllis Raynor, assistant professor at the College of Nursing developed the didactic and clinical training. They worked with SAEL Center and other program leaders to provide simulated telehealth experiences for graduate specialty programs. Students were prebriefed and then debriefed after the simulation, followed by feedback on their plans and with alternate scenario solutions.  

“This grant gave us the opportunity to include more content about the logistics and ethics of telehealth and to involve students from other specialty areas,” says Bailko. “A bonus was the ability to focus on a psych-based case with our FNP colleagues, who are valuable partners in our mission to increase access to high quality mental health care in the state. We’re immensely grateful to the Foundation for investing in our future workforce.” 

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