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Healthcare Delivery: The Future is Hybrid

As consumers, we are already used to managing many aspects of our lives digitally. Shopping online, banking online, learning online are all digital channels that have become second nature to us. There is an expectation that the lines between both the digital/online experience and the in-person experience are blurred, and consumers can experience a seamless interaction in any channel. We expect to order an item online but return it to a physical store and buy groceries online but drive to a physical location for quick pickup. This digital transformation has been ongoing in many other industries for years and has now arrived in healthcare.

Covid 19 turned healthcare delivery upside down, and as the world stayed home, telehealth transformed the way patients have access to care. According to AMA digital health research, current telehealth adoption is estimated to be between 60% to 90%. This increase in adoption leads to an increase in expectations for how digital care will be delivered as well as what a seamless digital experience should look like.

But as the world opens up and more and more consumers are vaccinated, their desire to get out and about also increases. Many who had to buy online now look forward to the day they can go shopping in person, go out to lunch, and continue in-person activities. Consumers feel no differently about their healthcare.  While many have embraced digital healthcare delivery and telehealth during the pandemic, their desire to see their doctors in person will return for some. 

Cedar, a healthcare financial engagement platform company, partnered with Forrester Consulting to conduct the second annual Healthcare Consumer Experience Study. The study highlights the rise of these consumer expectations.  According to the survey, 28% of consumers have switched providers or stopped seeing a provider due to poor digital user experience. This is up 40% in 2020 over 2019. In a world where digital experiences have become a critical competitive advantage, healthcare needs to focus on creating the seamless interaction consumers and patients are looking for.

As consumers expect to have the same seamless interaction as patients, it has become clear that the future of healthcare delivery is hybrid. Hybrid healthcare meets consumers and patients where they are to offer both digital options as well as in-person options across the care continuum and puts the power of care in the hands of the patient.  Healthcare providers are working to combine the best aspects of digital and in-person care while ensuring they are meeting the needs of their patients.  This hybrid approach allows patients who aren’t yet comfortable visiting a clinic in person or prefer a digital/online visit to access the care they need and allows for those who need an in-person exam or procedure to get their best care. 

Creating this hybrid care delivery model creates challenges for healthcare organizations, providers and payers as it requires many changes to existing workflows and processes.  Determining when a digital visit is appropriate versus which care needs to be conducted in person is a key initial change that can be specific to each patient. In additional processes for scheduling these different types of visits, pre and post visit procedures and even billing processes need to be updated to incorporate hybrid care delivery. 

The Healthcare Consumer Experience Study revealed that 26% of patients wish it was easier to book an appointment online. While 23% wish they could check-in for an appointment using a virtual waiting room like they can for a restaurant visit.  In addition, patients want more digital payment options with more flexibility.  These expectations are ones that other industries have addressed as part of their digital transformation, but they are new for healthcare providers and health systems.

In addition, providers, payers and health systems will have to look at their current workforce to ensure they can meet the needs of hybrid care. The workforce needs to be trained on new technology to engage patients and deliver a seamless digital and in-person experience. These necessary changes come on top of an already uncertain environment where our healthcare providers and professionals are working through anxiety and fatigue.

Despite the challenges, hybrid healthcare is the future.  Just as many other industries have already figured out how to ensure a seamless experience across digital and in-person interactions, healthcare will have to work through its unique challenges to deliver hybrid healthcare and meet the expectations of digitally-savvy patients.

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