The Cleveland Clinic and telemedicine technology and services vendor Amwell famously partnered to create The Clinic by Cleveland Clinic, which provides virtual second opinions and now other healthcare offerings.
Recently, the two organizations have been discussing an overarching digital strategy, as well as how healthcare provider organizations need to be working to create a differentiated virtual care experience – a competitive one.
We interviewed Dr. Roy Schoenberg, president and CEO of Amwell, to get the lowdown on these discussions at The Clinic, as well as his opinions on where telehealth will be five years from today.
Q. I understand The Clinic and Amwell have been discussing an overarching digital and virtual care strategy. What is the focus here, and why now?
A. We’re using telehealth in more profound ways than we did before or even during the pandemic. Today, applications for virtual care range from post-discharge care after surgery to specialty care and support for those with chronic conditions or complex diseases, like cancer.
Now we’re taking what we’ve learned and applying it to our partnership with The Clinic by Cleveland Clinic for virtual second opinions.
Since The Clinic was founded in 2021, Amwell’s telehealth technology has powered virtual second opinions delivered by Cleveland Clinic physicians worldwide. Access to second opinions is vital because medical misdiagnoses are more common than you might think.
In fact, one out of 10 people with cancer or who have suffered from a major vascular event or an infection will be misdiagnosed. Amwell’s Converge platform empowers The Clinic to connect patients with the precise specialist for their condition, anywhere around the globe. It’s improving health outcomes and saving lives.
In The Clinic’s experience, when treatment plans are reviewed by an expert, 72% of treatment plans are modified after analysis. For some, this helps avoid the trauma, expense and cost of unnecessary surgery. It also can reduce the risk of undertreatment, which worsens health outcomes over time.
But virtual care for those who need second opinions isn’t just limited to a visit with a specialist. It also supports pre-visit preparation to ensure patients and families are ready for their appointment. The Clinic leverages Amwell’s automated care system to conduct telehealth preparation chats with patients and families before their visit.
It’s an approach that delivers value for everyone involved and it facilitates more informed discussions. It also helps patients feel more comfortable from the start of the visit, where a tremendous amount of learning takes place.
Q. You’re also discussing how healthcare provider organizations need to be working to create a differentiated virtual care experience – specifically a competitive one as organizations fight for talent as well as patient mindshare. Please elaborate in detail your feelings here.
A. A hybrid care model that combines in-person, virtual and automated care holds the greatest potential to transform care delivery and change lives. But few health systems are prepared to use this model to differentiate their patient experience.
Unless they move to close this gap, they will struggle to compete in a disruptive care environment. Ultimately, these health systems will be set back in the fight for healthcare talent and patient mindshare.
Consider the extent to which employers and health plans are pouring resources into virtual primary care. Today, 40% of employers plan to implement a virtual primary care benefit model this year, according to Mercer.
Meanwhile, health insurers are ramping up virtual-first models for members, including for primary care. And three out of four consumers find the idea of virtual primary care appealing.
Yet we’re not seeing a rapid uptick among providers in preparing for a virtual-first model of primary care. Unless healthcare leaders initiate a “hard truths” conversation around virtual primary care, they will be ill-prepared to respond.
Legacy providers should examine their capabilities for virtual primary care and the types of partnerships they will need to succeed in the future of care – and specifically integrate this strategy with a holistic hybrid care approach that connects the entire patient experience.
Q. What is telemedicine going to look like in five years? And how will it blend into overall care delivery?
A. In the next five years, we’ll see the integration of AI-powered, automated care on a large scale that will improve care quality and outcomes and reduce costs for transformational change. It’s a model that will remove barriers to condition-appropriate, cost-effective care and create a more sustainable and powerful care delivery system, the impact of which will be felt for years to come.
Just as telehealth for specialty care outpaced urgent care telehealth visits during the first year of the pandemic, we’re now experiencing virtual care’s potential to reduce inequities across healthcare. For example, academic medical centers are leveraging virtual care to replace in-person visits for transplant patients.
And we’re exploring ways for telemedicine to act as a force multiplier for improving outcomes for vulnerable populations, directing clinicians’ attention to those who need assistance in real time.
But as physician shortages and record rates of clinician burnout strain our capacity to provide care, we need an infrastructure where clinicians can activate an extension of themselves that involves live human interactions at the right moments when they are truly needed.
Furthermore, while both consumers and clinicians are skeptical about using AI in healthcare, the biggest lever for value lies in applying AI in the space between patient encounters – not as an alternative to clinician visits.
By connecting patients who need care advice with automated support before their next scheduled visit, we can strengthen care quality and reduce costs while improving the care experience.