Hybrids used to be the realm of flowers and cars. Then COVID-19 threw support services into the mix: at the deep end. Although it is fair to say that things were already evolving towards hybrid support services, the global pandemic really accelerated the change. It allowed businesses and services to use hybrid systems in ways in which they might never have otherwise envisaged. To misquote Plato: “Necessity is the father of invention”.
Hybrid support services in the healthcare sector
If we take the healthcare sector as both a prime example of rapid take-up and a basis for future evolution, we can see that a hybrid model is now, and will continue to be, a standard way of accessing support services. Clinical support has traditionally been offered in person, allowing a highly-trained medical professional to see, assess, and discuss a person’s symptoms to offer a diagnosis or treatment.
The pandemic made this face-to-face contact difficult, and so services were swiftly developed to diagnose and treat people while keeping everyone safe from the virus. The rapid switch to online and telephone services was unprecedented, meaning they were often difficult and frustrating to navigate at the outset. In the UK the NHS reported that in 2019, 80% of appointments were done in person, with only 1% by video link. By the beginning of April 2020, only 7% of patients were seen in person, with most consultations taking place over the phone.
As it soon became clear the pandemic would not be quickly or easily halted, digital service development accelerated at pace. Companies and individuals adjusted to these new ways of providing and receiving services and over the last few years ‘normal’ has changed. Customers are not only more likely to adopt a digital offer, they also now expect one that complements the delivery of in-person services and support.
Reimagining how health and wellness support services are delivered
In the healthcare sector practitioners had to meet their patients’ needs. Not only were GP practices offering virtual and telephone appointments, start-ups were also responding with innovative digital service offers to fill new gaps. Now that the pandemic is ‘over’, GPs continue to offer virtual and online appointments and their convenience has meant patients have continued to adopt them when appropriate. The delivery of services virtually may have been born out of necessity but is now often the preferred delivery mechanism.
Virtual services are not expected to entirely replace in-person interactions and services: they will need to work harmoniously with them. Customers want to flow between them and use the most convenient, accessible, and cost- or time-effective method at the time.
What are the benefits of hybrid support services?
Convenience, savings, and increased reach benefiting patients and local communities The UK has many rural areas where access to services means travelling long distances. Offering a digital complement to in-person services and support allows more people to access them from their own home and can also benefit local communities. An article in The Harvard Business Review by Intermountain Healthcare, based in Salt Lake City, US, looked at the impact of changing their service delivery during COVID-19. “An internal study of 150 patients in one rural Utah town showed each patient saved an average of USD 2,000 in driving expenses and lost wages over a year’s time because he or she was able to receive telehealth care close to home. We also avoided pumping 106,460 kilograms of CO2 into the environment — and the town’s 24-bed hospital earned $1.6 million that otherwise would have shifted to a larger hospital in a bigger town”.
Reduced company costs A digital component should mean that more people can be served without companies needing additional physical space, which costs money. It should also mean using fewer resources as they are able to use the most convenient and appropriate mechanism. For Intermountain Healthcare, “the average cost of a virtual encounter at Intermountain is USD 367 less than the cost of a visit to an urgent care clinic, physician’s office, or emergency department”.
Flexibility Staff may be able to work more flexible hours and at less cost to themselves and/or the company if they can work from home.
Continuity It can be incredibly frustrating dealing with a service where you have to repeat information they should already have, and this often occurs where there is little continuity between services. There is a fine balance between having enough information to offer the right support and it feeling intrusive. Data exchange within health and wellness support can be tricky and lead to a lack of continuity, particularly when connecting physical and digital clinical services. However, shared data exchange between different services can be incredibly valuable when it is done properly, is respectful of the user's privacy, and is securely managed.
Where do you start with designing hybrid support services?
As Accenture’s 2020 Digital Health Patient Survey (England) concludes: “digital healthcare tools and technologies should be collaborative (developed together with patients), robust (respectful of patient privacy and resilient enough to meet data privacy expectations) and transparent (based on a mutually beneficial exchange of data for service)”.
As we know, traditional patient support services can be expensive to deliver as they tend to rely on in-person interaction. In some cases, they can be difficult to travel to and may only be located in larger cities. Moving to a hybrid model allows organisations to utilise resources efficiently and reach more people: potentially new groups who would otherwise have passed on the service entirely.
How does Engine Service Design help?
At Engine we believe in designing with and for people. The key is collaboration, and this results in products and services that offer real value and exceed expectations. By working simultaneously with end users and those within the healthcare system we can help you design an outstanding experience for your customers. Please get in touch with one of our service designers to find out how we can help you.
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