The adoption of virtual health has increased dramatically since March 2020, with 150 million telehealth claims in less than two years. Like other revolutionary innovations throughout history, healthcare innovation is necessitated by time — and unmet needs. So many struggled to create virtual care solutions during the pandemic, and many technology companies jumped into the telehealth space because of the unmet needs of patients. But the pandemic era is soon coming to an end, leaving telehealth to settle into a new normal.
The healthcare industry is changing rapidly. Because numerous moving parts and innovations are at the heart of this transition, the journey hasn’t been entirely linear. The industry has matured; at this stage, the future of virtual care needs less noise and more customer-focused technology to deliver much-needed care.
The telehealth space is witnessing consolidation, acquisitions, and partnerships, enabling a smoother landscape for hybrid care. However, once the public health emergency (known as PHE) funds end, waivers will go away, and many patients will be left without care unless more action is taken in telehealth.
So, What Comes Next?
The new model of care going forward (reimbursements or not) is destined to be a hybrid approach. In some ways, hybrid healthcare could be labeled the “future of telehealth.” A combination of both in-person and virtual appointments, hybrid programs allow providers to care for more patients in myriad ways. A hybrid healthcare system has many benefits. One is the ability to bring in virtual specialists to improve the quality of diagnosis without wasting time or travel.
The hybrid experience allows a primary care doctor to consult with specialists a thousand miles away and provide in-person, cross-care to local patients. As the U.S. continues to move away from fee-for-service models to value-based care, hybrid healthcare will be critical to managing costs and patient loads. Hybrid healthcare combines the best of both worlds: the convenience and accessibility of telehealth and the complete continuum of care for patients who need more care in person. The hybrid model puts the patient at the center of the experience, as it becomes more about convenience, cost, and access.
Hybrid healthcare also gives us better tools to treat patients with chronic illnesses. An estimated 157 million Americans live with chronic conditions, and about 75% of healthcare costs are spent on these patients. With the ability to check in via telehealth in between appointments, providers can see these patients more regularly, keeping them healthier and happier.
Because so many procedures and exams require in-person appointments, physical care delivery will always remain. Healthcare providers who don’t seek additional patient support beyond physical care will fail to accommodate the new normal they find themselves in. Hybrid healthcare is a modern opportunity to reach more patients, keep them engaged in their health, and improve clinical outcomes.
Here’s how your healthcare organization can provide quality hybrid healthcare in the year ahead:
Move to a value-based care model instead of fee-for-service
Value-based care (or VBC) is centered on delivering efficient care that is used wisely and accurately documented. VBC supporters claim that it lowers healthcare costs and improves patient health compared to fee-for-service care. The VBC model compensates medical professionals for their attention to the standard of care they deliver, as opposed to the number of patients seen; this incentivizes quality over quantity. Payment for VBC services is determined by how well these services work to keep patients healthy and avoid sickness.
VBC initiatives encourage better patient care, healthier communities, and long-term cost savings. Notably, they have become more noticeable since the Affordable Care Act shifted the emphasis from counting the care provided without accountability to measuring patient outcomes.
Lobby for reimbursement around telehealth once the PHE ends
Many of the waivers put in place to aid providers during the pandemic expire once the present public health emergency is over. The major exception is telehealth, which has an extra 151 days before losing flexibility and includes allowing patients to get virtual care from home. Medicare does not have distinct payment rates, and reimbursement depends on the facility.
Payment parity between in-person and telehealth appointments is a myth. Many times, for example, because of the way the virtual visit is “covered” or “reimbursed,” patients end up paying more out of pocket to make up for the lack of payment given to the provider. Be involved in your state legislature to ensure waivers are extended and that hybrid healthcare solution are included in new bills.
Continue using telehealth to increase efficiency and ROI
It will be necessary for modern healthcare providers to continuously engage the patient community via telehealth. The goal is to encourage usage and adoption to remain high as more data and clinical outcomes can be tracked and proven successful. Over time, continued research and investment in telehealth will create new innovative healthcare networks that can support patients even more.
As for ROI, workloads that waste time, money, and resources can be streamlined via telehealth, thereby increasing corporate efficiency. According to a 2021 poll by the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition, almost 80% of telehealth patients were satisfied with their care and felt a sense of access and continuity of care. Happy, healthy patients are the lifeblood of any healthcare organization, and telehealth helps you further those goals. Additionally, those patients are more likely to consider other services or seek inpatient treatment at your facility. Even a 5% retention rate could boost ROI by 95%, according to Bain & Company.
Every industry goes through periods of technological transformation, and healthcare is coming to another pivotal moment: the end of a public health crisis that changed the landscape of the medical field entirely. As hybrid healthcare becomes the new normal in telemedicine, we are seeing health systems work towards streamlining fragmented technology solutions to a more enterprise digital strategy.
About Eric Bacon
Eric Bacon is the President at AMD Global Telemedicine, Inc. He has 20 years of experience designing new medical devices and telemedicine solutions that are deployed in more than 100 countries and used in millions of consults. During his time at AMD, Eric and his team have transformed and expanded the company from a provider of medical devices to a software development and technology company focused on effectuating change and impact across the healthcare industry.