Telemedicine is a treatment strategy that the Cleveland Clinic, ranked as one of the top U.S. hospitals, is actively pursuing as a tool for reaching out to patients remotely.

Thanks to the efforts of Peter Rasmussen, M.D., medical director of distance health at Cleveland Clinic, patients in Ohio now can access an online urgent care consultation anytime, anywhere. Rasmussen, a neurosurgeon, has applied telemedicine techniques to his work for years, using it to engage with stroke victims. He is now helping his colleagues at the clinic to leverage the same kind of technology to help provide other on-demand medical services.

MyCare Online, a private and secure video telemedicine consultation, enables providers to diagnose or treat many acute health symptoms through the service. Patients can access services through a free app called Cleveland Clinic MyCare, available from Google Play, Apple’s App Store, or on the web. “We promise three minutes connect time to a physician anywhere you are on your mobile device, and it’s pretty hard to beat that level of access to a provider,” Rasmussen says.

In an interview, Rasmussen answered questions about MyCare Online and, more broadly, about the benefits of telehealth technology for patients and providers.

In what medical areas is Cleveland Clinic adopting telemedicine to better treat patients?

Rasmussen: We’ve got a lot of efforts ongoing that really bridge the full spectrum of care from emergency acute care to chronic disease management.

Why telehealth? What are the factors and motivators for Cleveland Clinic to adopt the technology?

Rasmussen: There are many reasons, one of which is to align with patient expectations. It’s a changing world we live in, and people are used to pursuing all sorts of goods and services online, and healthcare should be one of them. Obviously, you can’t do heart surgery or brain surgery online, but you can solve a lot of health issues through an email or video telehealth interaction and even manage some chronic diseases remotely.

We think this is the right direction to be going in. It’s less expensive in the long term to provide these healthcare services, and it allows us to extend our brand and reach to underserved areas at a very low cost. The real opportunity in all of this lies in the development of virtual disease management programs for things like managing chronic hypertension and diabetes through remote monitoring and care coordinators, and minimizing the number of actual bricks-and-mortar visits that patients have to undergo.

There are Bluetooth-connected devices such as glucometers and blood pressure cuffs that allow patients to monitor some of these health parameters at home. By having that data stored in Apple Health or one of the other electronic dashboards or apps, that information can then be forwarded to a provider for review, and then, within the context of a virtual visit, medication adjustments could be made.

Are there certain medical specialties that lend themselves more easily to telemedicine?

Rasmussen: Obviously, behavioral health services work and routine post-surgical follow-up visits, as long as patients are recovering well. About 80 percent of urgent care complaints can be resolved using telemedicine—those are things like sore throat, cough, minor rashes, diarrhea, fever and headaches. And we’re beginning to work with virtual dermatology as well. Certainly, you can make a pretty good assessment of whether you’ve got a malignant lesion vs. a benign lesion. We’re also beginning to look at maternal fetal medicine and looking at the morphology of the fetus and providing those kinds of consulting services for areas that don’t have those kinds of specialists available.

What advice would you give to other healthcare organizations looking to launch similar telehealth initiatives?

Rasmussen: Think carefully as a healthcare system where you want to be in three to five years and what kinds of services you want to be delivering. When looking for a software partner, make sure that a vendor’s vision and strategy aligns with where you want to go in terms of services. There also has to compatibility with your existing IT infrastructure. Given the complexities and closed nature of most electronic health records, there isn’t going to be good interoperability but at least look for someone that you can work with to some degree. In addition, be careful in whom you select as caregivers and physicians working on these platforms and that they truly do buy into the concept of telehealth and remote patient care.We’re really at the very beginning of telemedicine. We’ve got good technology, but it’s only going to get better. And, as our comfort with this—both as patients and providers—increases, we’re going to see a shift to more healthcare delivered at home or where we work, and less in the medical office.

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