- The Cleveland Clinic and telehealth vendor American Well have launched a joint venture, The Clinic, to provide virtual access to medical specialists for patients worldwide with complex healthcare issues.
- The two organizations have not yet fleshed out the details of exactly what types of services Cleveland Clinic's physicians will offer to patients through the telehealth format, but they said a wide range of specialists will be involved, offering "insights, opinions, recommendations and assistance."
- The joint venture extends the relationship between Cleveland Clinic and American Well, which have collaborated since 2014 to provide 24-hour access to virtual non-emergency care for many minor illnesses and injuries through Cleveland Clinic Express Care Online. The express care service, which is primarily staffed with Cleveland Clinic physicians, also provides access to some specialists for virtual visits.
Despite the promise of convenient, cost-effective care, uptake of telehealth by physicians and patients has been slow. The challenges to adoption include regulatory barriers, lack of internet connectivity and the reluctance of some physicians and patients to try something new.
While many commercial insurance plans offer telehealth services to their enrollees, Medicare has been more reluctant to reimburse virtual visits — but that is changing. Beginning next year, CMS will give access to telehealth care for Medicare enrollees with chronic conditions. The agency also will give Medicare Advantage plans more flexibility in 2020 to pay for telemedicine benefits for people treated in their homes.
Despite the hurdles, providers and insurers have been steadily increasing their telehealth offerings because they view the virtual care model as a way to control costs and increase access to care.
For example, United Healthcare this month rolled out a new virtual care app for its members enrolled in employer-sponsored plans. The app, which will eventually replace an older version, allows members to schedule and conduct virtual visits, manage prescriptions and shop for care, among other tasks.
But Cleveland Clinic and American Well say the type of service they envision — virtual visits with specialists — is the first of its kind. "This new venture marks the first time that a major digital health technology platform has partnered with a globally recognized healthcare provider to deliver digital solutions for complex healthcare problems," Tom Mihaljevic, CEO and President of Cleveland Clinic, said in a statement.
Certainly, a lot of consumer-to-provider virtual visits involve care for non-urgent, minor medical illnesses and injuries and for behavior health consultations.
In addition to the venture with Cleveland Clinic, privately-held American Well has added other new services this year.
In June, American Well and Cisco announced a partnership to provide telehealth services to older adults by converting televisions into patient portals. Although the companies have not yet launched a product, any device will allow for remote control by the care team.
In January, American Well launched a telehealth cart to allow hospital patients and their care teams to connect to remote specialists. The cart is designed for health systems performing telemedicine via the company's software or an existing Cisco infrastructure.
American Well contracts with more than 130 health systems on their telehealth offerings, and 150 million people have access to American Well services through their health plan, according to the company.
Cleveland Clinic says telehealth is an important part of its growth strategy, and the organization has already seen a rapid increase in the volume of virtual services. Last year, the number of visits grew by 68%.