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The use of telehealth accounted for fewer than 1% of outpatient visits prior to the pandemic. But between March and August of 2020, that percentage jumped up to 13%. While overall telehealth usage for outpatient visits leveled out to 8%, the demand for virtual mental health care remains high, with one report finding that 62% of consumers prefer a virtual visit for their regular mental health visits. The report stated that consumers said they would prefer a virtual visit even after it is deemed safe to be in person. However, as people return to regular in-person medical and mental health care, 6 out of 10 people who used virtual care say they would prefer both digital and in-person access to health services in the future. Clearly, there’s a demand for a hybrid model of care. But what does that mean for higher education?
The rise of telehealth in education
Campus closures and social distancing to reduce the spread of COVID-19 compelled many colleges and universities to deliver more care services remotely. The federal government supported the move during this period by removing regulatory barriers and payment policies. For example, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights said it “will not impose penalties for non-compliance with the regulatory requirements under the HIPAA Rules against covered healthcare providers in connection with the good faith provision of telehealth during the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency.”
The urgent need to support students coupled with relaxed policies and penalties made online platforms for medical and mental health services an effective solution for expanding healthcare—and rightly so. PubMed studies show that virtual health effectively treats depression, anxiety, sleep, stress, alcohol use disorders, PTSD, and eating disorders in college and university students.
Colleges and universities added online services for student mental health and well-being using various platforms, including phone apps, video visits, online modules, webinars, and text messaging. Adding virtual services became a big part of helping higher education leaders deliver the care needed by college students during a global pandemic. And, it showed that virtual healthcare could play a prominent role in serving students in the future.
What is a hybrid model of care?
A hybrid model of care brings together the best of telehealth and in-person treatment. It uses technology for video conferencing, patient monitoring, appointment scheduling, and follow-up. In the hybrid model of care, the barriers between in-person and virtual care disappear and telehealth is infused throughout the system, creating seamless care pathways and patient experiences. And contrary to one myth about virtual care, it does not mean replacing on-campus clinicians and staff. Rather, it’s meant to fill gaps in care.
A few other myths:
Myth #1: Online care is not secure or confidential
At its core, telehealth is a healthcare service. In the same way that a hospital, counseling center, or healthcare organization would keep patient data secure, telehealth services prioritize security and encryption to keep your information private. TimelyCare’s virtual health and well-being platform is compliant and certified for HIPAA, SOC 2 Type II, HECVAT, and PCI. It’s also audited and tested for accessibility using VPAT 2.4 standard.
Myth #2: It’s complicated to get started using virtual care
Visiting a doctor’s office usually means a lot of paperwork. That’s not the case with telehealth visits. Everything needed to get started with telehealth services — like medical history and background information — can be completely quickly and easily online or in the telehealth application. For college students using TimelyCare, insurance isn’t needed for visits, which makes getting started even faster. Then, the patient is ready to start the visit. A healthcare professional, whether for a mental health or medical visit, will ask questions to establish background before a session begins, but telehealth and virtual visits remove the barrier of extensive paperwork and insurance requirements that are commonly associated with accessing care.
Myth #3: An in-person consultation is necessary to use telehealth
Since telehealth is a virtual delivery model, it’s not necessary to have an in-person consultation, whether for mental health or medical help, to be cleared to use telehealth. With TimelyCare, all eligible students immediately gain access to the virtual health and well-being services that their institution selects, which are available anytime, anywhere.
Myth #4: Services are only available during business hours
Health and well-being needs aren’t restricted to business hours, and an urgent mental health or medical need can happen anytime. That’s why many telehealth partners, including TimelyCare, offer 24/7/365, on-demand medical and mental health care. A student’s busy schedule may not allow them to make an appointment during the day, or a critical mental health situation might occur in the middle of the night In response, telehealth and virtual healthcare options extend the reach and hours of campus healthcare services.
Myth #5: The stigma of seeking mental health care is gone
Not all students are comfortable seeking mental health care in person. Despite significant progress in recent years to normalize mental healthcare, there remains a stigma for some students, due to a variety of reasons ranging from religious beliefs to cultural traditions, to walk into a counseling center or clinic. Giving a student access to virtual care at home, in a residence hall, or any place that a student feels comfortable helps to remove that stigma and empower them to access the care they need.
A hybrid model of care is the future for college students
How do in-person and virtual care fit together?
While telehealth and in-person visits for care each offer unique benefits, combined they create a cooperative model that delivers a better, more cost-effective healthcare system and more satisfied students. Telehealth can transform healthcare services in many ways.
Five ways a hybrid model of care can benefit colleges and universities:
For campuses with student healthcare services, telehealth and virtual care options offer 24/7/365 access that extends the reach of campus care beyond business hours. With 24/7 access to mental health and medical resources, students can still access a supportive, knowledgeable provider even when the on-campus counseling center is closed. At the end of the day, in the middle of the night, and even on weekends, TimelyCare offers students emotional support and medical care, including critical situations. The flexibility of telehealth enables students to get patient care anytime and anywhere, which is particularly beneficial if the student is not on campus or needs care after hours.
Consistent care that fills gaps
More than 20% of higher education institutions don’t offer any health services. For these schools, telehealth can serve as the primary source of healthcare for students. Suppose a student requires in-person care for healthcare needs. In that case, a telehealth medical or mental health provider can provide referrals to the appropriate facility or resource based on the institution’s protocols. For colleges and universities that do offer campus health resources, telehealth and virtual care can offer resources that may be scarce, like psychiatry, and offer availability when campus services are closed.
Patient volume management
Virtual health services accommodate surges in patient volume and can enable health centers to handle an influx of patients by remotely accessing an expanded network of licensed, board-certified physicians, nurse practitioners, licensed counselors, and behavioral health specialists in real-time. Telemedicine also allows for remote patient monitoring, so primary care providers can do digital health checkups on their patients.
Telehealth modalities for higher education vary, but some partnerships – like those with TimelyCare – enable students to access no-cost medical and mental health visits, which removes worries about insurance requirements and financial burdens.
As budgets become tighter in higher education, decision-makers have to move beyond simply cutting budgets to looking at efficiently and effectively allocating resources. Telehealth provides efficient, cost-effective access that optimizes existing healthcare resources to provide care for students when and where they need it.
From improving patient engagement to extending the reach of healthcare services into geographically isolated areas, a hybrid model of care can provide a way to address the specific needs of your campus community through both in-person and virtual care options.
What is TimelyCare’s approach to a hybrid model of care?
TimelyCare’s mission is to improve the well-being of college students by making virtual medical and mental healthcare accessible anytime, anywhere. We designed our solution to complement on-campus, in-person services by cultivating a hybrid care model in partnership with campus health through a range of virtual services, including mental health counseling, on-demand emotional support, medical care, psychiatry, health coaching, basic needs support, faculty and staff guidance, and digital self-care content.
Virtual health and well-being services enable institutions to strategically coordinate, integrate, and utilize technology to fill gaps in care, provide 24/7 support, and ensure continuity of care. With integrated virtual and in-person options for care, the result is that colleges and universities create an ecosystem that enables students to access care efficiently and optimize campus healthcare, relieving the burden of high demand for services and avoiding provider burnout. When students can access an integrated telehealth solution, they’re able to avoid unnecessary urgent care and hospitalization bills and quickly and efficiently get the care they need. By partnering with colleges and universities to provide a high-quality, high-touch, integrated care delivery system, TimelyCare provides peace of mind for campus administrators and healthcare professionals, along with students and their families.
Contact TimelyCare to learn how a hybrid model of care delivered through telehealth and virtual care can enhance your campus health resources.