The Cleveland Clinic’s plans for the future will depend on digital platforms such as telemedicine, data analytics and artificial intelligence, as the $8 billion healthcare organization looks beyond its core electronic health record system capabilities, according to new president and CEO Tom Mihaljevic, MD.

“Digital technology will allow us to deliver smarter, more affordable and more accessible” care, said Mihaljevic during his first State of the Clinic address. “The Cleveland Clinic has always been an early adopter, beginning with our electronic medical records. But now, we have to take technology even more seriously. We have to go for even more transformational technologic adoption.”

Mihaljevic, who succeeded Toby Cosgrove in January, noted that telemedicine is the health system’s fastest growing clinical offering through Express Care Online, an app that runs on smartphones, tablets and desktop computers to connect with healthcare providers.

“Today, we can provide care for a variety of conditions anywhere on earth,” he said in the recent address. “We had more than 25,000 virtual visits last year alone. And our vehicle for this is Express Care Online. It is a face-to-face app that puts you in touch with a caregiver from the comfort of your own home.”

According to Mihaljevic, another technology area that the Cleveland Clinic continues to leverage is its ongoing relationship with IBM Watson Health. In late 2016, the two organizations announced a five-year agreement to expand the clinic’s health IT capabilities including the use of IBM’s secured cloud, social, mobile and Watson cognitive computing technologies across its clinical and administrative operations.

“We are fortunate to work with IBM Watson on the future of cognitive computing,” Mihaljevic added. “Now, the day will come when our decisions are supported by data from wearables, imaging, implants, genetic profiling, along with insights from global health trends and published research. And care through that will become more personalized and individualized than ever.”

The Cleveland Clinic
The Cleveland Clinic

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Speaking at last week’s HIMSS18 conference in Las Vegas, Cleveland Clinic CIO Edward Marx said that the health system continues to explore areas of technological collaboration with IBM.

“Early on, it was really just to create the knowledge base and for Watson to attend medical school—if you will—and to understand all the literature and research studies and then apply that to very specific situations,” commented Marx. “Some examples would be in the area of oncology, where we explored the ability to do some predictive sort of analytics, and we have an ongoing relationship with them looking at other areas in the clinical realm focused on doing what I would call precision medicine. These are very specific to particular specialties, not broadly attributed yet. But, we’re hoping based on our success in those areas that we can then extrapolate it on a broader scale.”

To foster greater collaboration, IBM Watson Health is building a two-story, 43,000-square-foot building near the clinic’s main campus, which will house the Cleveland arm of IBM Healthcare’s data analytics enterprise.

“They have made a pretty large footprint in the city near our campus, where they’ll bring 300 professionals related to IBM Watson, right across the street from where our researchers and providers are,” said Marx. “That’s really just going to escalate the relationship that we have together, because the future really is largely about data and the ability to learn from it and apply it going forward.”

Marx pointed out that cloud-based healthcare intelligence company Explorys—which is now part of IBM Watson and was developed by Cleveland Clinic physicians and IT experts—has one of the largest secured clinical data sets in the world, representing more than 50 million unique patients, which is used by providers to identify patterns in diseases, treatments and outcomes.

Nonetheless, Mihaljevic emphasized that he does not envision a future of medicine in which computer-generated artificial intelligence will replace human caregivers, but instead will provide much-needed support to clinicians.

“It is a future where we will have access to 1,000 times more knowledge than we could get together today from our own reading,” he observed. “It is also a future where caregivers will be liberated from repetitive tasks to give their full attention to patients’ needs. And, we will use digital technology to humanize care and enhance our role as healers.”

Similarly, Marx said at HIMSS18 last week that rather than artificial intelligence, he preferred the term “augmented” intelligence.

“We see that the caregiver will always be central to the care and the empathy that we offer as part of the patient experience,” concluded Marx. “We talk a lot about augmented intelligence. This is providing the tools that the caregivers would require in order to take care of patients through predictive analytics and precision medicine, but at the same time retaining that connection to the patient.”