Cleveland Clinic, American Well launching new joint venture telehealth company

Cleveland Clinic and telehealth company American Well are launching a joint venture to provide broad access to comprehensive and high-acuity care services via telehealth, the organizations announced Monday.

Named The Clinic, the Cleveland-based joint venture will provide virtual care from Cleveland Clinic’s staff through Boston-based American Well’s digital health technology platform, according to a news release. Through the new joint venture, patients across the globe will be able to connect to Clinic specialists for treatment for a number of conditions.

The Clinic will offer online access to expert care across a wide array of specialties. Cleveland Clinic executives did not specify what medical specialties would be available through the joint venture company's telehealth services.

The vision of The Clinic, according to Semih Sen, chief business development officer for the organization, is to make its "service level available to every human being on Earth.”

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The new venture marks the first time that a major digital health technology platform has partnered with a healthcare provider to deliver digital solutions for complex healthcare problems, according to Tom Mihaljevic, M.D., CEO and president of Cleveland Clinic. “This new digital health service will provide access to world-class Cleveland Clinic expertise and quality of care for patients in the U.S. and internationally," he said.

The two companies are focused on leading the industry toward integrated, digital care delivery models that complement and are connected to traditional care settings, the organizations said.

Will Morris, M.D., executive medical director for Cleveland Clinic Innovations, told FierceHealthcare the two organizations are focused on a "transformational" approach to telehealth services. Virtual care services have typically been offered through a reactive model when a patient has an acute issue, he said.

"We're looking at how do we come to you when you need it? We want to flip it to a proactive versus reactive model. This is not a new app or a new launch page. This announcement is the beginning of a long journey. It's signaling that we are ready to take this to the next level," Morris said.

Digital health technology can be a powerful tool to help democratize patients' access to high-quality care, Morris said.

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The Clinic will enable the two organizations to quickly innovate and find new and improved ways to virtually deliver care, organization executives said.

During a presentation Monday at Cleveland Clinic’s 2019 Medical Innovation Summit at the Global Center for Health Innovation, Roy Schoenberg, M.D., American Well CEO, gave an example of what those new capabilities could look like, The Plain Dealer reported. He described a patient who was able to stay in her home because her medical care team could tap into the TV in her bedroom to deliver care remotely when they had time, much in the same way that doctors perform rounds at hospitals.

“The TV is an example of how groundbreaking it can be,” Schoenberg said. “We have opened up the bedroom of a patient to open up the healthcare system.”

Cleveland Clinic and American Well have collaborated since 2014 to deliver nonemergency and specialty care via telehealth through Cleveland Clinic Express Care Online. Cleveland Clinic has seen a rapid increase in the use of virtual visits to deliver patient care. In 2018 alone, the number of annual virtual visits grew 68%, the organization said.

Telehealth is a key part of Cleveland Clinic’s growth strategy to double the number of patients served in the next five years. Cleveland Clinic projects that in just five years, 50% of outpatient visits will be virtual.

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"We are bullish in this space," Morris said. "But we are a hospital, we're not a technology partner or a startup with the agility to tackle this opportunity and to do it exceedingly well."

The Cleveland Clinic saw an opportunity to leverage American Well's capabilities in developing digital health platforms for the new joint venture. At the same time, the joint venture will utilize Cleveland Clinic's experience in care delivery and tap into the knowledge and expertise of the hospitals' physicians and clinicians.

"One thing that has become apparent is that telehealth, for the most part, has been transactional," Schoenberg told FierceHealthcare. "We see telehealth being involved in deeper ways in caring for patients. To do so, you have to understand how these technologies can solidify and deepen the relationship between clinician and patient."

Schoenberg added, "The next step to advance telehealth has to be clinician-driven; how would clinicians like to see these technologies work to care for patients. That's a big reason why we have come together to make that a reality."