Q&A: The Cleveland Clinic is expanding telemedicine. Here's what patients should consider
The Cleveland Clinic recently opened a new hospital in Mentor that has telemedicine technology in every patient room.
The Clinic calls it the “hospital of the future,” where patients can be electronically connected with a doctor who could be anywhere in the system.
But, will patients really want to give up in-person visits? And does the fact that you’re connecting with your doctor online change the way you’re billed?
Telehealth appointments have largely dropped off since the COVID-19 pandemic has largely subsided. Why is the Cleveland Clinic looking to expand its virtual care?
[Hospitals realized telehealth] has the potential, in some areas, to lower costs and decrease how often patients are using health care resources in the future. The Clinic has some interest in expanding using telehealth because they want to tap markets outside of their hospitals… if you look at consumer preferences among millennials and Gen Z, they're really comfortable accessing their medical records online and talking with their doctor online.
The Clinic said employees really like telemedicine because it gives them more flexibility in their day. And it's really important also for behavioral health workers because there's a big shortage, so this frees up more of them.
What's the Clinic doing at Mentor Hospital, and why is it unique?
Mentor Hospital is a small hospital. It has 34 inpatient and 24 outpatient rooms and each of those rooms is fully equipped with telehealth technology. Essentially, if a patient wants to have an appointment with a specialist that's not close to where they live, they can go into Mentor Hospital and see a doctor that way. Of course, they can also probably take that appointment from their home. But what's really interesting is the inpatient telemedicine. Basically, if you get out of surgery and there's a question where you need to consult with another specialist, instead of having to be transferred to another hospital, you can virtually meet with someone over the equipment in your room.
Are patients paying the same for a telehealth visit as they would for an in-person visit?
Patients haven't really noticed a difference in billing right now and since the pandemic. The American Medical Association is going to announce new billing codes in 2025. And there are questions that need to be ironed out as more places incorporate telehealth in the wake of the pandemic in terms of how things will be paid for. Facilities fees are an example. Facility fees were created to help hospitals subsidize the cost of their overhead like buying helicopters for medical transport. It was really meant to help hospitals in economically depressed areas like rural communities or cities.
Loren Anthes, who consults with the Center for Community Solutions, said if hospitals charge those fees as part of telemedicine, that's not really using the fee as it was envisioned.
"If you enable telemedicine in this way, you could essentially be undoing the economic input that this construction was intended to facilitate, while also supporting a fee structure that's premised on the idea of that economic input," he said.
Many people have found telehealth to be very convenient, but is it right for everybody?
There have been some recent studies that have come out about this, and for some areas, it can be really beneficial. Behavioral health and dermatology patients really tend to see the greatest impacts from using telehealth. For some patients, though, for conditions like respiratory or infectious diseases, telehealth hasn't really reduced the number of future visits or costs.
The Clinic acknowledges that patient satisfaction is not totally there yet. Some people really like the convenience. Others, however, say that the technology is too hard to deal with.