New service allows patients statewide to access urgent care via telephones and other devices as Cleveland Clinic positions itself to be a 24/7 provider of choice
Urgent care by telephone is the latest patient-centric and customer-friendly medical service to be offered by the Cleveland Clinic. It is also the first 24-hour online statewide healthcare service of its kind in Ohio, a milestone that has implications for pathologists and clinical laboratory executives because lab testing is often required in support of patients wanting access to urgent care, particularly after hours.
Express Care Online (formerly MyCare Online) is the Cleveland Clinic’s new telemedicine service. It enables patients to see a medical professional for urgent matters via computer or smartphone 24 hours a day/seven days a week, according to a Cleveland Clinic statement.
One Step Forward in Support of Patient-centric Medical Care
Cleveland Clinic is a leading multi-specialty academic medical center. Its programs are nationally ranked by U.S. News and World Report. So, its investment in virtual healthcare is worthy of pathologists’ and medical laboratory executives’ attention for at least a couple of reasons:
• First, tapping telemedicine for urgent care may align more people to providers (although a Cleveland Clinic official said increasing patient volume is not the organization’s intent). But it could happen. And most of these patients will need medical laboratory tests sooner or later. And they will expect fast and easy access to lab test results.
• Second, Express Care Online’s application may suggest ideas for streamlining clinical laboratory workflow, especially in the area of securing payment from the patient at time of service.
Making Care More Convenient for Patients
Express Care Online uses telemedicine technology to expand access to healthcare and make it more convenient to people, the Cleveland Clinic statement pointed out. The hospital system is the first in Ohio to offer 24-hour online healthcare statewide.
“When people think about the Cleveland Clinic, we want them to associate us with fast, easy access anywhere they are,” declared Matthew Stanton, Cleveland Clinic’s Senior Director of Distance Health, in an article in Crain’s Cleveland Business.
Stanton also told Crain’s Cleveland Business that the service is not a “volume play” and the provider is not expecting to make a large margin.
How Does Cleveland Clinic’s Urgent Care Telephone Hotline Work?
People with a valid credit card can engage a healthcare provider for about 10 minutes after following these steps described online in a Cleveland Clinic-posted video:
• Use a computer, smartphone, iPad, or tablet with online access and a Web camera. A Wi-Fi connection is preferred but a cellular signal will work;
• A $49 fee payable by credit card is required at time of service;
• Register and provide e-mail address for user name;
• View a list of providers and select one;
• Share symptoms.
“Patients should be able to connect with a provider within one minute,” said Peter Rasmussen, MD, Cleveland Clinic’s Medical Director for Distance Health, in a Cleveland.com article. The service is aimed at helping people with acute health symptoms including cough, urinary tract infection, abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, and headaches.
Cleveland Clinic engaged American Well a telemedicine company, for the technology platform and the access to board-certified healthcare professionals.
Telemedicine Technology Taking Off
The platform appeals to the millennial demographic who embrace technology, according to J. Gregory Rosencrance, MD, Chairman of Internal Medicine at Cleveland Clinic Florida.
“Our experience at Cleveland Clinic shows that patient satisfaction has been the same or higher than face-to-face visits,” he told the Palm Beach Daily News.
Telehealth is an established trend. Nationally, more than 14 million beneficiaries in Medicare Advantage plans have flexibility to use telehealth as long as their providers offer it, according to the American Telemedicine Association (ATA). Referrals to primary care doctors and specialists is one of four key services enabled by telemedicine, the ATA points out on its website. Others are remote patient monitoring, consumer health information, and medical education.
But another telemedicine endeavor involving the Cleveland Clinic recently ended. HealthSpot, a Dublin, Ohio-based company, closed the eight-foot by five-foot community-based kiosks it operated that allowed people to electronically communicate with Cleveland Clinic providers, according to a Crain’s Cleveland Business story.
“We were notified over the holidays that they [HealthSpot] were discontinuing their clinical operations,” said Eileen Sheil, Cleveland Clinic’s Executive Director of Corporate Communications, in the Crain’s Cleveland Business story.
Insurers Covering Virtual Doctor Visits
The Cleveland Clinic is not the only big brand touting virtual urgent care. Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield offers similar virtual visits for $49 called LiveHealth Online, which is covered for many Ohio subscribers, reported Cleveland.com.
After its launch in 2012, LiveHealth Online usage swelled in 2014, when users increased ten-fold, according to John Jesser, Anthem Vice President, Provider Engagement and Cost of Care, who was quoted in the Cleveland.com article. Five hundred employers now use the service throughout the U.S., up from a handful at the program’s onset, said Jesser.
Also, in a 2015 statement, UnitedHealthcare announced expansion of coverage options for virtual physician visits in 47 states and Washington, D.C. The insurer is partnering with Doctor on Demand, Optum NowClinic, and American Well to offer virtual healthcare services with physicians who will be accessible 24/7 via mobile devices and tablets, according to a FierceMobileHealthcare report.
So, well-respected brands, from the Cleveland Clinic to UnitedHealthcare to Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, are diving into virtual urgent care. As they do, they are making delivery of healthcare via smartphone more mainstream. Consequently, it’s prudent for lab executives to strategize related opportunities. Clinical labs in Ohio, for example, may want to explore the idea of offering fast online access to lab test results. For labs nationwide, patient portals and mobile apps can give patients online access to test results and relevant education and recommendations.
—Donna Marie Pocius