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Boise State Nursing School Brings In Robots To Revamp Telemedicine Education

Woman communicates through video conference on her laptop with a medical provider
Mark Lennihan
In this Jan. 14, 2019 photo, Caitlin Powers sits in the living room of her Brooklyn apartment in New York, and has a telemedicine video conference with physician, Dr. Deborah Mulligan.

The coronavirus pandemic forced healthcare providers to turn to telemedicine to minimize in-person visits and supporters want to keep it around as an affordable and accessible option for patients.

Now, the nursing program at Boise State University is revamping its curriculum to help students and healthcare workers best use telehealth in their careers.

Idaho’s Workforce Development Council recently awarded Boise State nearly $300,000 to bulk up its undergraduate telehealth education.

Students currently learn telehealth concepts, but the grant money will give them hands-on opportunities to put those skills into practice as early as this fall.

That’s according to Jayne Josephsen, the school’s chief nurse administrator and associate divisional dean.

“Our students graduating have to be able to understand how that’s used in healthcare delivery and also understand their role in that,” Josephsen said.

As a condition of the grant, the nursing school will partner with St. Luke’s and St. Mary’s Health in north-central Idaho to help train students.

Part of the money will pay for robots that students can operate in rural hospitals and clinics to help treat patients. The grant will also cover expenses for laptops and an advanced mannequin that can interact with the students.

Other parts of the curriculum include teaching future nurses what kinds of considerations they have to factor in when treating a patient virtually, including privacy concerns.

“How you interact with somebody is different when you’re doing it via video or phone as we’ve all learned during the pandemic,” Josephsen said.

Actively working nurses can learn more, too. Many had to suddenly adapt to a completely different work environment last March, Josephsen said.

Boise State plans to hold two annual continuing education courses on telehealth over the next three years as part of the grant.

Juniors taking a behavioral health course this fall will be the first students to experience the new telehealth curriculum.

State and federal lawmakers are trying to cement looser restrictions and regulations surrounding telemedicine.

In Idaho, Gov. Brad Little waived several state rules at the beginning of the pandemic to allow out-of-state doctors to treat Idahoans virtually and allow all in-network providers to offer telehealth services, among other things.

Little called for those changes to be made permanent during his state of the state address in January. State lawmakers declined to renew any rule changes again this year, though a spokesperson for the governor's office said they would be republished and and in-effect July 1.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season. If you have a tip, please get in touch!