The concept of a hybrid care model as the “new normal” has received the buy-in of healthcare professionals and patients globally, having seen first-hand the practical application of digitisation during the pandemic.
A key aspect of the hybrid healthcare model is a shift from provider-centric to patient-centric or individual-centric care. Therefore, healthcare institutions will need to rethink their care strategies and move towards integrated care systems.
To put it simply, hybrid healthcare is neither digital nor physical, neither in-office nor at home. Instead, it is a co-existence of different states and capabilities. It takes the best of everything, fusing digital and physical experiences to provide flexible, accessible and seamless patient-centric continuum of care unlike conventional telehealth. Screening and diagnostic tests, physical examinations and treatments do not fit in with a pure telehealth model, but they do work in a hybrid model which can help create efficient care pathways.
Pre-pandemic, the challenges and fears regarding the hybrid model were on the telehealth side of the spectrum. There was a lack of trust on digital technology to efficiently support care providers to deliver a service which has been historically in-person. Covid-19 has made telehealth irreplaceable, and ready to be accepted into the mainstream service delivery.
Remote care was finally ratified by the government of India in March 2020. Today, consumers and clinicians are looking for ways to safely continue access and deliver care, improve population health, reduce costs and improve the work life of health care providers — the quadruple aim of healthcare.
Technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data analytics, blockchain, the internet of things, virtual care, remote monitoring and smart wearables are at the core of the new hybrid ecosystem. Wearable healthcare technology is becoming more advanced — smaller, cheaper and more accurate devices can be paired with digital applications that deliver real-time health insights and longitudinal data sets.
Globally, healthcare is behind other industries on automation. Traditionally, adverse events are investigated retrospectively by a team of people, often many months after the event. Real-time data and machine learning can support quicker, evidence-based investigation to create a learning healthcare system. Data and technology are a very effective solution to workforce shortage. Also critical is the skilling of healthcare professionals and task shifting.
Let me also salute the frontline workers who have been working tirelessly to combat Covid-19, often neglecting their own needs.
While we see the early signs of a third wave, let us hope that Omicron is the trigger for this pandemic to become an endemic. Then we would be able to live with it as we live with influenza and common cold. Meanwhile, it is important to look at the real, underlying pandemic of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which must be addressed immediately with hybrid models.
As healthcare continues to present new opportunities, advancements made today are essential for tomorrow’s medicine. Hybrid healthcare models will help in an efficient and effective health service delivery in countries like India with vast geographies, which have healthcare accessibility challenges, especially in rural areas.
Integrating digital skills within healthcare education, creating affordable private healthcare through digital innovation, maintaining momentum in research, regularly amending regulatory processes, developing sustainable infrastructure, implementing systemic changes and establishing better connections between governments, administrations and others are key to transforming healthcare in the second most populous nation in the world.
Joint MD, Apollo Hospitals Group.