The Future of Telehealth: A Hybrid Model of Care

Healthcare systems across the world found themselves forced to rely on telehealth to support the care journey of patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. This was the case in particular during lockdown, in the days before vaccines became widely available.

Now that we are beginning to emerge from the worst of the pandemic and lockdown, the question remains as to what role telehealth will play in the continuum of care going forward.

For many organizations that RelateCare partners with, there is a real desire to take the lessons learned during the pandemic and use them to find ways to integrate telehealth into normal healthcare delivery.

In-Person Care

This is not to say that telehealth can every fully replace in-person care, nor that it should. But more and more healthcare providers are finding ways to use telehealth practices where appropriate to support and supplement healthcare delivery. This is becoming known as the ‘Hybrid Model’ of telehealth.

Telehealth, in some form, has been around for many years now and essentially involves “the delivery of healthcare services, where patients and providers are separated by distance”. This can involve either audio, video or text-based technologies used to exchange information in order to diagnose, treat, research, evaluate disease or injury (Anjali Raj Westwood, Health Service Insights, York St John University, UK).

Nurse On Call and Post-Discharge Follow-Up

At RelateCare, we provide a range of clinical programs through audio and text-based applications. Our Nurse on Call program offers patients the option to call a Registered Nurse, any time day or night to seek advice, diagnoses, education, support or a referral for an appointment with a physician.

Similarly, our Post Discharge Follow Up Program (originally developed with Cleveland Clinic) provides patients with a timely follow up communication (text, audio, SMS, etc.) to check-in on how the patient is doing after they have been discharged from hospital: are there new or worsening symptoms? Are they taking medication? Do they understand their rehab program?

Out of crisis comes opportunity, and here we have a real opportunity to take advantage of what the pandemic forced us to do in terms of adopting telehealth to a greater degree.

Benefits of Telehealth

It is long proven that telehealth has the capacity to bring a more cost-effective healthcare provision to regions and communities that otherwise might have more difficult pathways to care. Telehealth programs can also ensure patients stay engaged and connected on their care journey at key touch points. All this is possible while keeping people safe from further infection.

Speaking about the possible benefits of telehealth in Healthcare IT, Dr. Sean Kelly of Imprivata, said

“For example, those in rural areas can save the hours it would take to drive to a doctor’s appointment by simply using their phone or laptop. Virtual appointments are also appealing for those who are immunocompromised and need to limit the risk of in-person exposures to other people.

For healthcare practitioners, mobile devices will also continue to provide many benefits that were demonstrated during the pandemic. Mobile technology helps increase caregiving capacity beyond the “four walls” of a hospital, safely and securely.”

Reimbursement

Another significant factor in this is the changes to the reimbursement rules for telehealth.

Changes in Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reimbursements mean telehealth expansion is here to stay: CMS recently announced 11 new Medicare-reimbursable telehealth services, bringing the total to 144.

A number of studies over the previous year have shown just how much telehealth use has increased, along with claims from private insurance.

When it comes to healthcare, there will always be a need for patients to meet in person with their provider. The human, face to face connection, the physical exam, and the personal relationship between physician and patient cannot be replaced. But, there remains scope to use telehealth to bridge gaps, offer flexibility, and provide cost-effective care to patients.


If you would like to learn more about our telehealth programs, then please get in touch with us at info@relatecare.com

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