The pandemic incentivized rapid adoption of telehealth and helped our change-resistant industry quickly adapt to the “new normal.” While the pandemic is undoubtedly still raging, many stop-gap measures of the early global crisis are transitioning into long-term solutions. Congress is still deciding what role telehealth should play in federal assistance programs and where payment parity should come into play. Despite the obvious impact of telehealth on modern care, we are left asking “Where do we go from here?” 

Hybrid Care is The Future 

“[T]he medical practice needs to make sure that hybrid care is a natural part of the process, not something added on or sitting outside the normal routine. Providers who incorporate telehealth into their workloads without a lot of fuss will make their patients – current and new – more comfortable with selecting that option. ” 

5 Guidelines to Establishing a Post-Pandemic Telehealth Strategy, mHealthIntelligence 

100% virtual care isn’t possible. Even some routine checkups still require face-to-face interaction. But, telehealth has a place in the next evolution of care. Telehealth reduces cost to patients and providers, all while expanding the impact of care by making it easy to include specialists and family members regardless of time or distance. For patients with access to devices, internet, and screen readers, telehealth makes the accessibility leap, allowing for video remote interpretation (VRI), and delivering care directly to those with mobility challenges. Telehealth has even improved care for the mentally ill, resulting in more kept appointments.  

And, providing care doesn’t require an either/or decision when it comes to digital. Bedside devices deliver a wealth of resources that increase patient engagement and improve outcomes. With interpreters available at the touch of a button and telequarantine options that keep care teams safe while preserving PPE, hybrid digital care already exists for inpatient applications. Moving forward, we need to make digital an option as often as possible, both within care facilities and outside of them.  

Give Patients the Option 

The key to a successful hybrid care plan is to allow patients autonomy in their treatment options. Patients are already driving change in the industry, and how we deliver care to patients will define the next era of healthcare. Patients no longer bear the burden of coming to care. Now, providers can deliver treatment directly to patients, wherever they are. This shift in care delivery gives patients more options than ever before when choosing providers.  

Patients also need to be free to choose more traditional care plans, because they aren’t always equipped for telehealth. As important as digital resources are in bridging healthcare disparities, a digital-only approach would cause challenges for patients without access to internet and devices. Communities with low digital literacy and access continue to need traditional care offerings. 

“Older, non-White people are the groups most vulnerable to low digital literacy and face more barriers in accessing digital health information than younger, White people. Digital health developments are far outpacing efforts to bridge the digital divide, widening that divide and exacerbating existing health inequities. Tools…that provide convenience, access, and agency for patients while reducing barriers are not widely accessible to older, lower-income, minority, and non-English speaking patients and those with low health literacy.” 

Seizing The Moment For Telehealth Policy And Equity, Health Affairs 

And while telehealth should always be available, it shouldn’t be an add-on or an afterthought. Effective digital care must be an established component of your services, with a plan for educating care teams and patients on the best use cases for digital versus in-person visits.  

Care Team Buy-in is Necessary 

The biggest stumbling block for telehealth implementation is care team buy-in. If providers don’t like, understand, or believe in any new technology, they simply won’t use it. Or, worse, they’ll use it reluctantly and their lack of faith in the solution will result in negative patient experiences and outcomes. Lack of confidence is crippling to a digital solution. 

The care team is key to effective implementation. The technology selection and implementation process should reflect an intimate understanding of care team workflows and pain points, to ensure that providers’ burdens are alleviated. Taking an existing one-size-fits-all solution and forcing it to fit existing processes is a recipe for failure.  

“Don’t come at implementation and onboarding from an outsider’s perspective…Also, train a bunch of different ways. Being able to have zoom classes, and videos, and tip sheets…because everyone learns a little bit differently. Make sure that you include clinicians in the whole process including kick off meetings, testing, more testing, all of that. Don’t just pull them in at the end and say, “Okay here’s your new technology.” 

Health Care Hero: Brittany Partridge 

The care team is your real end user. While patients interface with the telehealth platform occasionally, providers use it all day every day. The technology must be as user-friendly and helpful to providers as it is to patients.  

Make Accessibility Your Foundation

For telehealth to truly work, accessibility is critical to its design. Health equity should always be a consideration from product development to implementation and practice. Telehealth is only helpful when it makes care more accessible, not less. Think through how patients and providers will access telehealth, how they will use it, and what advantages it will provide. An easy way to make your digital care more accessible is to integrate language access so that patient-provider interactions can easily include qualified medical interpreters.  

“We are going to be shifting a lot of our work into the telehealth space, and what we’re hoping is that we’re going to be able to eliminate barriers by ensuring our providers have language access literally at their fingertips…From an equity standpoint, we know that this thorough [Martti] integration allows us to deliver the utmost standard of communication to our patients. In turn, it allows our providers to feel confident that they are effectively caring for their patients with the elimination of some of these barriers.” 

Health Care Hero: Chineye Anako 

Health equity is the key to successful hybrid care plans. By considering which resources eliminate barriers to care for which communities, you’ll empower your team to provide better, more comprehensive care however and whenever it is needed. 

References

Tappen, R. M., Cooley, M. E., Luckmann, R., & Panday, S. (2021, January 7). Digital health information disparities in Older adults: A mixed METHODS STUDY. Journal of racial and ethnic health disparities. Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7790471/.

Telehealth Solution. (n.d.). From Life Raft to Main Stay: Telehealth’s Expanding and Enduring Role in Community Settings. Retrieved September 22, 2021.

Telehealth utilization settles in at 20% or less of medical appointments. The Center for Connected Medicine. (2021, September 7). Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://connectedmed.com/resources/post-pandemic-telehealth-utilization-settles-in-at-20-or-less-of-medical-appointments/.