How do providers strike the right balance between in-person care and telehealth?

In a recent Healthcare IT News article, Aledade Chief Policy Officer and Chief Commercial Officer Sean Cavanaugh offered his expert insight into virtual care after the pandemic ends.

During the peak of the pandemic, up to 50 percent of all primary care visits were conducted via telehealth. That happened in part because of the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ quick actions to loosen restrictions around telehealth, which led to an uptick in telehealth adoption by Medicare beneficiaries.

Now, as vaccine distribution continues and more in-person care appointments are available, the number of in-person visits continues to rise, particularly in cases where patients delayed necessary care because of the pandemic. That doesn’t mean we are going to go back to pre-pandemic levels of telehealth visits, however.

“It’s clear that we can’t go back to a system in which virtually no one could use or access telehealth services,” Cavanaugh said. “But at the same time, we’ll need to be thoughtful about the best way to create a hybrid model moving forward, so that we can reap all the true benefits telehealth can offer without creating a new piston in the fee-for-service utilization engine.”

It is important to “right-size” the telehealth component and not just add an extra burden on top of already overwhelmed providers and their staffs. Providers need help identifying situations in which telehealth can fill a care gap, or in which a virtual visit can help improve outcomes.

“Figuring out the best use cases will take good data and analysis. But it will also take shifting how we think about care delivery to focus more on the overall value, as opposed to focusing on individual services, like telehealth, as separate widgets.”

Cavanaugh said he thinks value-based models, such as the ACO model Aledade is using, offer the most promise for achieving a balance between virtual and in-person care. “These payment systems take into account the total cost of care for a patient, reward providers for keeping patients healthy and reducing wasteful spending, and are already designed to prevent overutilization,” he added.

The demand for telehealth will continue, now that patients understand the technology and have become more comfortable talking to their doctors online, and they see how convenient it is not to have to physically go to a doctor’s office.

However, Cavanaugh cautioned, providers who abandon telehealth are being shortsighted and are going to face intense competition from many telehealth startups whose entire focus is delivering convenient, virtual care. “From an overall quality of care perspective, this worries me because those services can’t be as coordinated with a patient’s entire health journey as a longstanding primary care provider,” he said.

Ultimately, Cavanaugh said, we have a huge opportunity right now to create a better system that supports a balanced approach to telehealth. It’s time to seize that opportunity and design a new future for telehealth that works for patients and providers.

Read the original article here.