Health care’s future is going hybrid. Everything points in the direction of health care continuing to be a mix of virtual and in-person care. Consider these statistics:
- The industry anticipates more than 500 million primary care visits by 2030, with an estimated 20 percent (120 million) occurring via telehealth.
- 90 percent of Americans use the internet, and 81 percent have smartphones.
- There is increased interest and experience in using wearables that offer health data insights.
- McKinsey estimates that virtual care could account for up to $250 billion in U.S. health care spending.
These statistics are just a snapshot of the patterns and trends giving insight into the future. While there will always be a need for in-person health care delivery, digital health care isn’t going away. Therefore, it’s essential for health care professionals and organizations to look forward and ensure they are set up to leverage all the benefits hybrid care can offer.
What Is Hybrid Health Care?
Hybrid health care combines the benefits of both telehealth and in-person care. It relies on technology for video conferencing, patient monitoring, appointment scheduling, and follow-up. Depending on the conditions, clinicians could manage patient encounters remotely, face-to-face, or both.
While telehealth and in-person care each have advantages and disadvantages, they create a synergy that results in better, more cost-effective patient care when used together.
Patients Are Embracing Digital Health
Digital health saw a boom during COVID-19, forcing people to get comfortable with technology. As we’ve returned closer to normal operations, telehealth use has leveled off, but it isn’t going away.
Healthcare Dive, reporting on a survey conducted by Zoom and Qualtronics, said that 61 percent of people who used virtual care during COVID-19 stated they would prefer both digital and in-person access to health services in the future.
“The hyperdigitalization of healthcare in general and the virtualization of healthcare has been quite significant,” Ron Emerson, global healthcare lead at Zoom, told Healthcare Dive. “We’re seeing … as we move through the different stages of COVID that telehealth and virtual care continues to be a delivery model that’s kind of consistent.”
Thanks to COVID-19, people are more comfortable with virtual care—even aging populations are becoming familiar with telehealth. A February 2022 AARP study found that one-third of older adults expressed interest in using telehealth for themselves or a loved one.
Digital health care has become so commonplace that patients now expect increased virtual access, including clinical encounters, appointment scheduling, and texting capabilities.
According to Forbes, the shift to hybrid care could ameliorate some significant problems in the U.S. health care system.
“[T]he U.S. has a shortage of primary care clinicians, which means it can be difficult to get an appointment,” Forbes said. “The shortage is especially acute in rural and impoverished urban communities. Many patients end up turning to urgent care or emergency departments, far costlier than a standard office visit.”
Integrating In-Person and Virtual Care Delivery
Despite the growing popularity of digital health, physical care delivery is necessary in many cases, such as surgery, and preferred in others.
This hybrid combination is the best of both worlds; there are ways to seamlessly integrate and leverage virtual care delivery even in physical locations.
When done well, the hybrid care model can exhibit the following benefits:
- Expands the reach of specialized care: The hybrid care model erases time constraints, enables 24/7 access, and ensures contact with trained specialists, including hospitalists and intensivists, regardless of location. That’s particularly true for rural communities where access to care is limited and with homebound patients who cannot travel.
- Maximizes space: Hospitalization is costly, particularly when taking rising inpatient costs into account. Hospital-at-home opportunities increase inpatient capacity at a lower cost while improving outcomes and patient satisfaction.
- Reduces wait times: Virtual triage reduces door-to-provider times and improves ED throughput. Patients receive needed care rather than sitting in waiting rooms for prolonged periods.
- Decreases care gaps: Better transitions occur when clinicians integrate communication into their workflow and technology, just as they do when working with virtual care teams.
- Increases flexibility: Virtual care allows for right-sized staffing and supports surge plans.
The future of health care is hybrid. Hospitals and clinicians cannot ignore the digital world and need to invest in technology that supports patient needs now and in the future.
Meanwhile, the need to offer quality in-person care is ever-present—one will not replace the other. When working together, this hybrid mix of digital and in-person care may be the best of both worlds.