As the upheavals caused by the COVID-19 pandemic stabilize somewhat, healthcare in the United States is landing on a hybrid care model. That model lets providers leverage both in-person and virtual options to deliver outcomes sought by constituents within a resource-challenged framework.
Hybrid care offers a spectrum of tools that connect clinical partners, minimize risks, and provide greater insight into individual health through active remote monitoring. Comprehensive platforms increase patient engagement with reminders, educational content, chat features, and other services.
A hybrid approach has the potential to address significant issues that continue to undermine healthcare delivery and accessibility. These include ongoing shortages of nursing, clinical specialists, and primary care providers. Another pressing concern, driven by the aging US population, is the growing prevalence of chronic conditions and an increasing desire to age in place. Healthcare utilization is expanding, and national healthcare spending will likely reach $6.2 trillion by 2028.
As healthcare organizations identify new virtual collaboration opportunities, the future of hybrid healthcare depends on technology partners to develop purpose-built solutions suited to the care setting. Virtual care programs in hospitals require access to telehealth in every patient room and fast access to relevant data and patient records. Advanced systems implement permanent bidirectional audiovisual connectivity with remote control capabilities, integrating with observation stations.
Inpatient hybrid care
Inpatient settings have utilized virtual solutions since long before the pandemic. However, comprehensive, adaptable virtual care programs in hospitals are relatively new and continue to become more prevalent. Today, many health systems have adopted technology that supports acute care providers and hospital ICUs with telemedicine and 24-hour observation services. Readily available on-demand virtual tools have simplified no-contact care delivery for COVID-19 patients and other high-acuity patients. Telenursing and telerounding streamline clinician workflows, increasing efficiency and decreasing provider burnout.
The interest and funding around hybrid care initially focused on high-acuity care settings, such as the ICU and step-down units. Now, organizations are recognizing that a hybrid model can support lower-acuity hospital care across departments, ensuring that all functions that can add value are “on the same page,” communicating together and with the patient and family or other caregivers. For example, the nurse or physician can be in a room with the patient while the specialist, primary care provider, interpreter, and family members are also virtually present at the bedside. Hybrid care also supports early, timely specialist involvement, and facilitates direct communication from the first EHR review and patient interaction.
That same “just in time, all needed present” paradigm can continue after discharge through remote monitoring using wearables, smartphone apps, e-prescriptions, and virtual check-ins. Whether the patient attends remotely or in-person, the care team, interpreter, and family can stay present at appointments. A recent paper outlining a clinically relevant telemedicine model for kidney transplant patients shows how postoperative hybrid care can benefit vulnerable patients and bend utilization costs.
Hybrid nursing programs
Larger health systems are starting to embrace hybrid care to remediate nursing shortages. We’ve seen telenursing expand, where a nursing corps in one physical location can cover several hospitals virtually. Virtual sitting, where observers track patient activity and notify clinical staff about concerns or distress, is a new way to leverage hybrid care for risk management and reduced bedside staff burden.
There’s more that hybrid care can do to ease the burden on lean nursing staff. A large health system recently leveraged Caregility Cloud™, our award-winning virtual care platform, to connect experienced nurses who have retired from bedside nursing, with the in-room nursing staff. In this scenario, a nurse with decades of experience but physical limitations can offer their knowledge to early and mid-career nurses on a full-time, part-time, or short-term basis. Besides the benefits to patients, the telenurse provides much-needed mentoring to newer nurses who otherwise may not have the opportunity to learn from seasoned staff at work.
Hybrid emergency care
Another use case that we’ve seen at Caregility is hybrid care in offsite emergency settings. An ambulance service installed our platform on 5G-enabled tablets, which enabled a triage nurse or an emergency physician to consult with first responders just as EMTs arrived on the scene, or during transport.
Hybrid care technology brings specialists right into the ED. This highlights how an integrated virtual solution impacts care quality since time is of the essence in emergency care. So, in treating an injury to the mouth or jaw, the ER doctor may need input from a dentist; teledentistry can do that instantly. In the event of a stroke, telestroke programs enable a neurologist to assess stroke type faster and authorize treatment sooner.
Other care settings
Hybrid isn’t just for hospitals. Smaller practices deploy virtual care platforms for a range of services, from primary care and urgent appointments to behavioral health sessions. Integrating virtual visits with in-person appointments as needed protects immunosuppressed patients, offers greater flexibility, and supports health equity by increasing availability and helping patients manage out-of-pocket costs that can otherwise become a barrier to access.
Moving forward with hybrid care
Many healthcare services require some in-person care, and physical presence has healing benefits. Technology will not replace the human element, nor should it strive to do so. Ideally, technology blends into the background, almost unnoticed. Hybrid care can be tailored to fit a wide variety of circumstances and care settings; however, its benefits are contingent on optimal clinical outcomes, staff burden, and patient experiences.
Most critical is that agile virtual care platforms are embedded in organizational strategies that support patients through an integrated healthcare journey, rather than an assortment of tools “stuffed into workflows.” That requires purpose-built virtual solutions with a wide array of customizable features that connect interdisciplinary collaborative partners. Likewise, solutions must minimize technical distractions, focusing on interactive, personalized, value-based care delivery.
Caregility’s award-winning, HIPAA-certified, virtual care platform connects patients, providers family members, interpreters, and clinical teams. Our ecosystem of partners offers value-based clinical services, including virtual nursing, specialty, and behavioral healthcare. Caregility provides administrative management, data, analytics, and robust decision support for acute and ambulatory settings across the care continuum.
To learn more about our virtual care platform, contact us today.