While the country’s healthcare providers quickly rose to the challenge of providing virtual care as a result of the pandemic, there will come a day when the pandemic is behind us, and many people will still want to see their healthcare providers in person. Ideally, telehealth will remain a viable option rather than a necessity; its purpose being to work synergistically as hybrid telehealth with in-person care. Telehealth has the promise of improving coordination of care, access to specialists otherwise not available, and convenience/removal of barriers such as travel time, child care, time off work, and greater care-seeking, which all lead to better health outcomes. The proven synergy of hybrid telehealth and in-person healthcare during the pandemic has dramatically increased awareness of the benefits of using hybrid telehealth to augment in-person care as well as the drawbacks of each.
Though grounded in technology, the human factor remains the core of telehealth success. Being able to establish and maintain a therapeutic relationship is the core of behavioral healthcare. Informed, effective use of telehealth technology that builds trust between a provider and patient requires specific skills, for which practitioners need to be trained. Combining skilled use of innovative technology with greater access will result in improved quality of care.
To accommodate the now-recognized need for a widespread broadband infrastructure, the recent Executive Order in the United States requires a report to be submitted by Secretary Alex M. Azar II of the Department of Health and Human Services, addressing:
- Increased rural access to healthcare by eliminating regulatory burdens that limit the availability of clinical professionals;
- Prevention of disease and mortality by developing rural-specific efforts to drive improved health outcomes;
- Reduction in maternal mortality and morbidity; and
- Improved mental health in rural communities.
Other aspects of the Executive Order, as well as other legislative action in a number of areas, have been mandated while the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Has Been Extended to October 2020. See Telehealth Reform: US Congress Heeds Public Outcry for details.
Hybrid Telehealth: What Needs to Happen Post Pandemic?
The pandemic spurred on the use of telehealth for both providers and patients, forcing each to dive into the deep end of the pool, where they had to learn to manage any way they could to maintain their therapeutic relationship. As COVID wears on and professionals and consumers alike are learning to adapt to telehealth, it is becoming clear that telehealth is not going away. For many professionals, its many benefits have become routine – the advantages of working from home, avoiding a commute and possibly traffic, avoiding expensive office overhead, not needing to buy, wear and keep office attire. Many professionals are enjoying the benefits of increased flexibility in their schedules, being able to break their workday into two or three blocks, with time enough to enjoy a hobby; or family life; or run errands between regular appointments. On the clinical side, clients and patients have greater access to services, and providers have a cost-effective means to deliver them. Health care delivery during the pandemic has given everyone a glimpse of how technology can help improve healthcare by offering more convenience and immediacy, without the annoyances of traffic, parking, waiting, and exposing oneself, not only to COVID, but other infections are making their way to healthcare offices. Professionals and clients/patients alike are seeing a broader horizon of possibilities in how and when healthcare can be accessed.
No matter where you are on the planet, and no matter which language you speak, or what role you play in healthcare, hybrid telehealth and in-person healthcare can work hand in hand to provide superior healthcare service and outcomes to all people. However, for professionals to operate both legally and ethically, provider training is necessary.