Georgia telehealth nurses say they lack medical training and are fearful of the advice they give

ATLANTA — Many emergency rooms across the metro area at busting at the seams with patients, which is driving many patients toward telehealth.

A quick check of many area hospitals shows that Emory Hospital in Decatur, Grady Memorial Hospital and Southern Regional Medical Center in Clayton are at severe capacity levels and having to divert people from their emergency rooms.

With all of these hospitals being overcrowded and more people looking at telehealth as an alternative, telehealth nurses say they are overwhelmed.

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Many of these nurses say they are relying on online databases like Google and WebMD to give out medical advice.

“I’ve never had any clinical training,” one telehealth nurse who wanted to remain anonymous told Channel 2 investigative reporter Ashli Lincoln.

Two Georgia nurses say that with each passing day and every passing call they receive, they grow fearful of the advice they’re giving.

“Get someone like me who has no idea and has to say, ‘Let me put you on hold to review the record,’ when I’m really looking at Google,” one nurse said.

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Both nurses work for a major healthcare provider in Georgia and say their call volume has dramatically increased since the start of the pandemic.

“They’re calling us and holding 45 minutes to an hour to get to a nurse,” one nurse said.

Fair Health is an organization that collects medical data. Recent reports from them show insurance claims filed for telehealth services nationwide jumped 0.24% in January 2020 to 5% by May in 2021.

Nurses say that these increases come from patients being turned away from emergency rooms, urgent care facilities and general practitioners.

According to the Commonwealth Fund, another factor is that medical providers are enhancing private insurance coverage, making telemedicine more accessible.

Georgia lawmakers enhanced telemedicine laws before the pandemic even began in January 2020.

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Nurses say this expansion is great, but the timing that lines up with a nursing shortage is leaving undertrained nurses in positions to manage telehealth calls they are not qualified for.

“We have no knowledge of childhood illnesses, or diseases or parameters of vital signs and I just felt that that’s a very dangerous situation,” one nurse said.

Many nurses say they are quitting for higher-paying jobs, which leads to recruitment efforts to hire qualified nurses.