A Day in the Life of the Virtual Care Unit

Bringing advanced medical care home calls for a combination of in-person and virtual care, since caregivers cannot be physically present with patients 24/7 the same way they are in a facility. To help ensure safe care delivery, programs like Contessa’s suite of Comprehensive Care at Home services require a defined strategy for virtual care practices. 

To address this, Contessa’s Virtual Care Unit (VCU) operates remotely 24/7/365 to support patients’ needs while they are enrolled in our programs. With the support of remote patient monitoring (RPM) and in-person visits from Acute Care Registered Nurses (ACRNs), the VCU staff helps maintain cohesive care for patients receiving care in their homes. 

While it’s also possible to create a VCU by enlisting vendor support, Contessa has found that developing an in-house team allows for flexibility in adjusting to the needs of patients and partners, while specializing in targeted approaches for each line of care we deliver. Let’s take a closer look at a day in the life of the VCU, and what makes it invaluable to Contessa’s care at home models. 

What is the Virtual Care Unit and why is it unique? 

Our VCU is comprised of specially trained nurses and ancillary staff who work in “pods” dedicated to the individual care needs of the patient population they serve. This specialized approach to virtual care means that each service line in Contessa’s Comprehensive Care at Home model has appropriate virtual support.  

We also work with our individual hospital partners to structure VCU services and workflow around their structure and staffing needs. And, as new actionable information becomes available about the best clinical workflows to implement, we are able to quickly adapt and integrate those changes within the VCU since it is an integral part of Contessa’s care and not managed externally. 

One of Contessa’s core features in both the high-acuity (hospital at home) and post-acute (skilled nursing at home) models is that patients are enrolled in an episode of care that includes either a 30 or 60-day monitoring phase, depending on the program and patient eligibility. This allows ongoing care coordination and close follow-up for an extended period, helping to support better patient outcomes and fewer return hospitalizations. The VCU plays a key role in following these patients and managing their care during these monitoring phases. 

The backbone of the Virtual Care Unit: remote patient monitoring 

Remote patient monitoring is a vital connection between patients’ homes and the VCU when there is not an ACRN present in the home. Patients are given all the necessary equipment and instructions needed to record vital signs such as weight, temperature, blood pressure, oxygen saturation and other data which the VCU staff then monitor and review for any concerns. 

If the patient misses a check-in, the VCU staff will contact them by phone to ensure that they are continuing to do well and to obtain the necessary data. If abnormal vital signs are noted, the VCU can respond to ensure continued appropriate patient care. 

Roles and responsibilities of the VCU staff

The VCU itself is comprised of registered nurses called Recovery Care Coordinators (RCCs), and non-licensed personnel called Recovery Partners (RPs). All staff members work remotely from home. Typical responsibilities of each role include: 

  • RCCs round via telehealth with providers, assess patients remotely, triage patient needs if there is a change in vital signs or a patient calls in with a concern, and assist with case management when appropriate. 
  • RPs help with administrative duties like scheduling follow-up appointments, sending referrals for durable medical equipment (DME), coordinating ancillary services like physical therapy, radiology testing and more. 

Job duties are also dependent on the shift worked; during the day, routine care coordination and telehealth visit support are part of the workflow. At night, a nocturnal VCU team receives patient updates from visiting daytime ACRNS at the end of the day shift so they can manage after-hours care needs effectively. They also manage inbound calls and monitor for any patient changes. 

Additionally, because Contessa works with multiple hospital systems, although RCCs have a primary hospital assignment, they are also cross trained in other markets to ensure coverage is always available across all hospital systems. 

How the VCU is making a difference in the lives of patients 

Thanks to the 24/7 support of the VCU, patients can receive care at home with the confidence of knowing their care team is only a phone call away if any questions or concerns should arise. This specialized virtual care interacts with advanced RPM to ensure high-quality patient outcomes that are equal to or better than care in a brick-and-mortar facility, paving the way for continued growth of these models of care that help patients stay where they prefer to be— at home. 

Meet Our Expert

Annie Walker, MSN, APRN, FNP-BC, Senior Director of Care Management

Annie serves as Contessa’s Senior Director of Care Management. In her role, she provides senior clinical oversight to the Virtual Care Unit (VCU), collaborating with market providers and senior leadership. She also focuses on clinical management and quality outcomes for the VCU and strategy for its clinical growth and scalability. Annie first began working as an ICU nurse in Pittsburgh before moving to Nashville where she attended Belmont University to obtain her master's degree as a nurse practitioner. Prior to joining Contessa, Annie practiced as a hospitalist nurse practitioner providing inpatient care at a local hospital.