Industry Voices — Driving Innovation for Virtual Care: 4 Lessons from The Clinic by Cleveland Clinic


Despite all the stress COVID-19 has put on the U.S. healthcare system, the pandemic will eventually be seen as a watershed moment – the moment when virtual care has become a major factor in the delivery of healthcare.

A recent survey by a national telehealth service provider indicates that hospitals and health systems are planning to expand their use of telehealth beyond the COVID era. Indeed, the results indicate the imminent arrival of “virtual care 3.0”, or the next era of digital care delivery. Virtual Care 1.0 represented the use of telehealth before COVID for emergency care; 2.0, the use according to the needs of the pandemic of scheduled virtual appointments for primary and specialized care. Virtual Care 3.0 heralds the advent of “smart growth” as telehealth emerges as a permanent fixture in the healthcare landscape and progressive healthcare plans and providers take virtual care to the next level.

How can healthcare providers, health plans and employers successfully achieve virtual care 3.0, leveraging telehealth to improve outcomes, access and patient experience? The experience of The Clinic by Cleveland Clinic points to four ways to fully realize the next step in the evolution of telehealth.

# 1: Telehealth is the great equalizer

Realizing the full potential of virtual health requires that individuals have access to the expertise necessary to meet a wide range of healthcare needs. Virtual savvy consumers are already exploring video-on-demand consultations with medical specialists, from behavioral health specialists to dermatologists, neurologists and endocrinologists. This is a trend that is likely to increase as people move beyond the use of telehealth for one-off needs to scheduled virtual visits with physicians of all specialties.

Major providers, health plans, and employers are now seeing telehealth as an opportunity to standardize access to ‘rock star physicians’, eliminating long travel times for in-person consultations and filling gaps in access to care for patients. vulnerable populations. The clinic, for example, combines underserved populations, including those in rural areas, with virtual access to specialists most appropriate to their condition.

RELATED: AHA, Johns Hopkins, Athenahealth, and More Launch Campaign to Make Telehealth Permanent

# 2: A Robust Telehealth Approach Ensures Patients Receive the Right Care

The second opinion market is expected to reach $ 7 billion by 2024, up from $ 2.7 billion in 2019. But a second opinion from any doctor is not enough. Patients, especially those who face the most clinically challenging conditions, need the right specialist to treat their specific condition. Telehealth allows patients to have virtual access to an institution like the Cleveland Clinic, with expert specialists who have condition-specific knowledge from many years of experience. This helps improve outcomes while reducing costs associated with patient travel as well as the potential for misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment.

Research found that health plans incur on average more than 6,000 misdiagnoses per 100,000 members, resulting in an estimated cost of $ 92 million, while employers face an average of 1,524 misdiagnoses per 25,000 employees , resulting in an estimated cost of $ 23 million for 25,000 employees. .

Virtual second opinions from the right specialist help prevent patient harm and preventable healthcare costs by reducing the risk of misdiagnosis upfront.

# 3: Well-Designed Virtual Care Can Improve Patient Care Experience

With the vast majority of healthcare providers now offering some sort of virtual patient care option, telehealth itself is no longer a unique differentiator or added value. If care does not seem personalized and specialized, patients will look elsewhere. In an increasingly digital environment, strengthening the presence and expertise of physicians on the web through “web-based training” will be essential to ensure patient confidence. So will the tools and approaches that help humanize the patient experience.

Used to its full potential, telehealth can also improve in-person patient care. Anecdotally, the Clinic’s telehealth patients report a better experience of care overall, especially when they need a second opinion or a transition to in-person care. One reason is that Clinic providers perform a lot of behind-the-scenes tasks, such as collecting health records, which most providers leave with the patient. As a result, health record transfers occur in seconds rather than the days or weeks that patients may take to get these records and get them to their appointments.

RELATED: HHS: Telehealth Use In Medicare Increased 63-fold Last Year, Behavioral Health Increasing The Most

N ° 4: Excellence in telehealth offers a competitive advantage

An important concept exemplified by The Clinic’s approach is that telehealth is a vehicle, not a destination, for better health care. It is less about using virtual care to provide convenience and more about using technology to provide timely, appropriate, high-quality medical expertise to meet the medical needs of a given patient.

Telehealth per se is no longer a unique benefit. Rather, an organization’s ability to match members seeking virtual care with experts in their specific health condition will be a critical competitive differentiator. By providing virtual access to the best specialists and care available, insurers can attract more corporate clients and employers can attract higher caliber employees.

It’s time to take a next-level approach to telehealth

Since providers scaled up virtual care offerings to replace the loss of in-person visits during the first few months of the pandemic, consumers and providers have come to appreciate the value of virtual care. Now, members and employees expect it as part of their benefits. In a 2020 physician-consumer telehealth survey, 79% of consumers said they would see their primary care physician virtually, and 92% of providers said they plan to integrate telehealth into their post-COVID care .

The Clinic’s experience teaches key stakeholders in the healthcare industry that virtual care is not here to stay. It is critical to the success of every healthcare plan, provider and employer in 2022 and beyond.

Peter Rasmussen, MD, is Clinical Director, The Clinic by Cleveland Clinic, and Professor of Neurosurgery, Department of Neurosurgery, Cleveland Clinic and Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University.

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