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Why ‘Going the Distance’ for Your Patients Is a Win-Win-Win

Edward Marx

CIO, Cleveland Clinic

Peter Rasmussen, MD

Medical Director of Digital Health

Digital health is transforming health care delivery. Like many other health care systems, Cleveland Clinic is seeing a rapid increase in the use of virtual visits to deliver patient care — a 163 percent rise in 2017 alone. In fact, we expect that in just five years, half of all outpatient visits will be virtual and up to 25 percent of in-patient days will be handled in the home.

By offering distance health technologies, we are responding to patients’ needs for better care, greater convenience and improved access to our services. An early adopter of telehealth, Cleveland Clinic has expanded virtual visits into multiple areas for both acute conditions — asthma, bronchitis, earaches and flu – and chronic conditions like neuromuscular disease and diabetes. Virtual visits to receive second opinions for cancer and other complex diagnoses — especially for patients who live far away from our locations — are also growing quickly.

Meeting patients where they are

Distance is not a deterrent to diagnosis. Providing distance health technologies for the right patients, in the right place and at the right time enhances patient experience and quality of care. It works well for routine follow-ups, including postop checkups, medication checks, screenings and general issues. It is a win-win-win for patients who enjoy the accessibility, lower costs and even the “cool” factor. 

Virtualizing the practice of medicine drives value where it makes clinical and economic sense. It can reduce costs, such as by curbing unnecessary ED visits. Telemedicine-enabled visits can increase physicians’ efficiency in the era of bundled payments, while also providing a lower-cost care option for many patients, especially if they have to travel to see a provider.

There are many advantages for providers as well. Connecting with patients through virtual visits is easier than meeting in person, and reviewing medical records and imaging online is simpler. A virtual approach gives health care providers a broader reach and more frequent touchpoints with patients. Through email, EMR messaging and phone calls, providers may feel they spend more time interacting with patients than in the standard block of office visit time. 

Accepting change

Change is hard. The transition to distance health has hurdles but they are surmountable. Reimbursement has been an obstacle, but now that Medicare pays for virtual visits, other insurers are getting on board. 

Virtual care requires behavioral changes and some physicians may not be as willing as others to adapt. However, if the organization as a whole supports and encourages the transition, additional providers will come around when they better understand the advantages for themselves and their patients. 

This is only the beginning for distance health. Digital health technology is rapidly accelerating and we are eager to see how it continues to make a difference for patients and health care professionals alike. 

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