So, What Is Hybrid Healthcare?
At a basic level, hybrid healthcare uses a combination of in-person and digital tools to provide patient care. (1)
Providers will typically use video conferencing to conduct some patient visits virtually, and they may employ other technologies to remotely monitor their patients. (1,4)
Emerging “smart” devices can help providers virtually assess their patients’ blood glucose levels, heart rhythms, and even exercise performance. (4-6)
The hybrid model also makes use of technology to streamline ancillary components of care. For example, hybrid providers may offer online appointment scheduling and asynchronous communication between provider and patient via secure text or a patient portal. (1)
An excellent example of hybrid healthcare in action is the program offered by Fyzical Therapy & Balance Centers of Oklahoma City. (7)
This practice requires that patients establish care with an in-person initial evaluation. If both provider and patient agree that the patient’s case is appropriate for management via telehealth, the patient may choose to complete some or most of their plan of care remotely. (7)
This blend of in-person and remote care provides the therapist an opportunity to thoroughly screen the patient to ensure safety and appropriateness for care, while still offering the patient the convenience and flexibility of telehealth.
Why Is Hybrid Healthcare Popular Now?
Part of hybrid healthcare’s current popularity is due to the public acceptance of and interest in telehealth services over course of the pandemic. The number of patients who had ever participated in a telehealth visit increased from 8% to 22% last year, with 80% of physicians conducting at least one virtual visit in 2020. (3)
However, despite its increasing popularity, not all conditions can be treated via telehealth. And, some patients will continue to prefer in-person care to virtual visits. (1,2) As such, many providers are now seeking to offer both options to their patients. Thus: Hybrid healthcare!
Primary care physicians and other medical specialists are already employing these hybrid tools, and hybrid healthcare has just as much potential in the rehab space.
What Are the Benefits of Hybrid Healthcare for Patients and Providers?
In our previous articles on telehealth and rehab in the age of work from home, we discussed some of the key benefits of telehealth for patients, and many of these advantages also extend to the hybrid model of care:
- Decreased travel burden for patients coming from distant locations or those who rely on caregivers for transportation (7,8)
- Increased access to care for homebound patients who cannot travel or have extreme difficulty doing so (7)
- Improved safety for patients who are immunocompromised: Hybrid care can reduce the number of times they must be exposed to potential infections in a clinic setting (7)
In addition to helping patients, hybrid healthcare offers benefits to providers as well. Consider the following ways in which a hybrid model can improve the experience for both clinician and patient:
- Improved ease of scheduling: Allowing patients to use digital self-scheduling tools reduces bureaucratic red tape for patients and decreases the burden on support staff in the clinic
- Increased flexibility for appointments: Instead of being tied to the 8-5 timetable of the clinic, providers may be able to offer appointments at times that better fit patient schedules and their own. (1) The option for asynchronous add-ons, such as video instruction and remote monitoring of patient data allows for an increasingly dynamic method of providing care.
- The option for in–person care when necessary: Particularly in the rehab realm, having the ability to treat a patient in person when hands-on techniques are required may help providers feel more confident in the components of care they deliver remotely. (9)
Simple Ways to Implement a Hybrid Model in Your Clinic or Practice Today
Perhaps the idea of blending in-person care with the benefits of telehealth appeals to you, but you aren’t quite sure where to start.
Never fear! While rolling out a fully hybrid program can be complex, incorporating some elements of hybrid care into your practice is easier than you think!
Here are some suggestions to get you going.
Hybrid Healthcare Step #1:
Build Out Your Basic Infrastructure With the Right Medtech
Make sure you have the basic infrastructure in place before you offer digital options.
- Increasingly, patients expect streamlined access to care. If your clinic doesn’t already offer an online scheduling option with digital registration and check-in, invest in updating your software. (1)
- With the AC Health app, you can easily send an alert to all your current patients if a last-minute appointment becomes available, and you can include a link to your online scheduling platform.
- Use a virtual waiting room program that is designed for medical providers. These platforms are HIPAA-secure and built specifically to address the needs of healthcare providers. Some programs, such as Doxy.me, even offer free versions. (10)
- Adjust your appointment reminders. Many clinics are using automated emails and text messages to remind patients about upcoming appointments. By customizing these messages for patients who will be attending a virtual visit, you can reduce confusion about how to navigate your online forms and virtual waiting room. (1)
Hybrid Healthcare Step #2:
Use Your Practice’s and Your Patients’ Current Technology, Too!
The preponderance of wearable health technology in the marketplace today means that your patients have increasing access to tools that can improve their virtual care experience with you.
Consider the patient in need of cardiovascular conditioning. A Fitbit or even an inexpensive pedometer can help both you and your patient track their aerobic activity levels between visits.
For a pelvic health practice, insertable biofeedback devices like the Perifit can coach patients through pelvic floor exercises after you’ve instructed them in clinic. (11)
Don’t be afraid to bargain: you’re offering your patients the increased convenience and flexibility of hybrid care. In exchange, you may ask them to purchase devices such as an electronic blood pressure cuff or blood glucose monitor to help you remotely track their symptoms and response to treatment. (4)
And finally, consider downloading the AC Health app. In addition to helping you customize your patient’s home program, it allows you to send secure, asynchronous messages of encouragement or education to patients via videos, photos, or text.