Telemedicine is here to stay. But that doesn’t mean that in-person healthcare is going anywhere – soon or ever.
It’s becoming clear that a hybrid approach is the way forward for the healthcare sector, with many hospitals and clinics already relying on remote technologies that they scaled up dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of that experience, previously reluctant clinicians and patients have grown accustomed to telemedicine solutions, and reimbursement policies have begun to catch up with the technology. Telemedicine visits and remote patient monitoring (RPM) expand access to care, help alleviate the challenges associated with provider shortages, and in many instances, are more convenient for patients. While alternatively, in-person care is sometimes preferred (and often necessary) for specific patients, tests, and treatments.
Much of the technology needed to provide excellent hybrid care is already here, but healthcare organizations are still struggling to effectively stitch solutions together in ways that lead to both manageable workflows and improved outcomes.
Highlighted below are three areas that providers and administrators should focus on as they build out their hybrid healthcare offerings.
1. Systems Integration – Presently, some telemedicine and remote monitoring solutions exist essentially as islands: They offer important use cases and information on their own, but because they’re not effectively integrated with other IT systems, they are limited in what they can add to a patient’s overall treatment plan. This is going to have to change – and change quickly. In fact, I would go so far as to say that integration with electronic health record (EHR) systems like Epic has become imperative for remote monitoring tools. The obvious examples include having a two-way communications of documents and relevant data from the EHR to additional remote monitoring platforms, but also having billing information generated by specialized algorithms flowing to the proper users. Integrations with EHR systems can offer a whole new level of benefits. One simple, but powerful, example: by marrying clinical data with data from cardiac remote monitoring (CRM) devices to classify and prioritize alerts automatically. Specifically, being able to feed a clinical decision support system with data about medication can help automate triaging alerts and thus considerably decreases how much noise has to be reviewed by hand.
Systems integration doesn’t have to happen all at once. A healthcare organization might work its way up through identity verification, automated billing, and integrated reports, all the way to two-way sync and direct access.
2. Efficient and Effective Practices – It’s not enough for healthcare providers to roll out new telemedicine and remote monitoring technologies, even if they are integrated with other systems. Organizations must also create new practices and workflows that clinicians can easily incorporate. For instance, new RPM tools in the cardiac space typically generate mountains of data that many organizations are ill-equipped to process. This can lead to cardiologists becoming overwhelmed with false positives, as many remote monitoring platforms lack the specific context necessary to distinguish a meaningless blip in the ECG data from a genuine adverse cardiac event. Healthcare organizations can minimize these false positives by adopting artificial intelligence (AI) solutions that are trained to weed out “noise”. Such algorithms could fall under FDA regulation rendering their access slower, but constitutes a key tool to scale any practice. Over time, healthcare leaders will also need to adopt best practices that allow these solutions to contribute to “whole-patient” care rather than diagnosing or treating a specific condition in isolation inside and beyond a clinic’s four walls.
3. The Patient Experience – Remember the old saying? “The best exercise for patients is the one they’ll actually do.” Similarly, it’s easy to get excited about the potential impacts of hybrid health solutions, but it’s important to remember that these tools can only be effective if patients use them. This means that healthcare providers must take care to think through how they’re asking patients to interact with new tools and take steps to make the process as simple and convenient as possible. Patients have historically found it frustrating and time-consuming to navigate the traditional healthcare system – making it wise for healthcare organizations to invest in solutions that make it easier for patients to track and receive care for low-acuity conditions (which can account for around half of the visits in a typical primary care or urgent care setting). Offering accessible digital tools allow providers to compete with direct-to-consumer healthcare options and can help promote patient retention.
Although telehealth use has stabilized at nearly 40 times that of pre-COVID levels, we’re still in the early days of remote and hybrid care. By taking proactive steps to evolve and improve their hybrid offerings over time, healthcare providers can truly transform patient outcomes.