At first glance, the news item didn’t seem that noteworthy. The Cleveland Clinic, which has worked with telehealth vendor American Well since 2014, has been delivering routine care and access to a small selection of specialists. Now, it had announced that it was going to mount a joint venture with AmWell to offer virtual care.
After digging in a bit, though, I realized that there was some interesting information here. The new venture, dubbed The Clinic, isn’t just delivering virtual visits via a new corporate entity (yawn!). Instead, the new venture will be in a new business, offering “comprehensive and high-acuity care services” and access to a “wide array” of specialties. This isn’t just a new telehealth offering – it’s a step that moves Cleveland Clinic down the road towards offering a virtual hospital service.
*That* is another thing entirely. Not only does the new venture open up some great digital health opportunities (particularly a vibrant channel for selling its sought-after specialists) it also positions the organization to reinvent itself as telehealth becomes central to its mission.
In doing so, the Clinic is not alone. Over the past few years I’ve shared several updates on the virtual hospital rollouts in progress across the U.S.
One of the most mature offerings in this arena seems to be the Mercy Virtual Care Center, a $54 million program that has described itself as a “hospital without beds” since its launch in 2015. More recently I reported on the program mounted by LifeBridge Health, which has created its own virtual hospital model integrating virtual services with the care delivered by its brick-and-mortar facilities.
Cleveland Clinic’s leaders, too, seem to see virtual care as far more than just an attractive service line. In 2018, the number of virtual visits the organization delivered grew by 68%. They see telehealth as a key part of its growth strategy, which proposes to double the number of patients it delivers over the next five years. In fact, they project that within just five years, 50% of outpatient visits will be virtual.
With a widely known and much-respected entity like Cleveland Clinic tacking in this direction, we’re seeing the arrival of telemedicine on a whole new level.
It’s fair to say that absent some disastrous failure of the technology, a growing number of hospitals and health systems will see as a transformational force rather than a potentially profitable sideline. This is big stuff, folks.