Virtual second opinions: The Clinic by Cleveland Clinic sees big opportunities

The Cleveland Clinic and Amwell have teamed up to offer patients, employers and health plans the chance to check a diagnosis remotely. Frank McGillin, CEO, says there’s a clear need and a substantial market.

The Clinic by Cleveland Clinic is aiming to be the top choice for second opinions in the telehealth age.

The Clinic is a joint venture between Cleveland Clinic and Amwell, the telemedicine company. Launched in 2019, The Clinic by Cleveland Clinic offers second opinions virtually.

Patients can connect with thousands of physicians from the Cleveland Clinic, one of the most respected institutions in healthcare. Patients can go over a diagnosis for cancer, heart disease and chronic illnesses, and get another opinion to see if the diagnosis is correct, or if there are other treatment options that should be considered.

Frank McGillin, CEO of The Clinic by Cleveland Clinic, said he sees enormous potential in the partnership between the two organizations.

“There is a need there,” McGillin said.

“We're providing access to folks who normally wouldn't have that expertise,” he said.

In partnering with Amwell, the Cleveland Clinic sought to expand its ability to serve patients beyond its physical locations. As McGillin said, “The vision was all about: How do you unlock access to the best healthcare expertise through digital technology?”

Companies like Teladoc, 2nd.MD, and Best Doctors are competitors  in the second opinion field. The Clinic seeks to carve a niche by offering the Cleveland Clinic’s top specialists and a reputation as a leader in healthcare.

The Clinic draws revenue from three sources: health plans, employers and consumers. The Clinic signed Anthem, the Indiana-based insurance firm, in late 2021.

“We see all of these channels as important to our business,” McGillin said. “Health plans and employers reach huge patient populations, so there’s always a lot of potential to scale rapidly to ensure these groups have access to virtual second opinions. And in the consumer space, it really is more of a one-to-one relationship.”

Whether patients live in rural areas an hour or two from their nearest hospital or in the heart of a city, the prospect of getting a second opinion from doctors at a top-flight health system should be very appealing, McGillin said.

“We've given some patients new hope,” McGillin said. “In other cases, we’re giving them confidence they’re doing the right thing.”

For health plans and large employers, the Clinic touts its ability to save money in healthcare costs with incorrect diagnosis.

“The cost of misdiagnosis is pretty significant,” McGillin said.

For complex conditions, The Clinic says about 21% of the initial diagnoses are incorrect, while 66% required significant modification.

The avoidable cost of misdiagnosis per 100,000 health plan members is $65 million, the Clinic says.

Patients who turn to the Clinic get to talk directly with doctors, and McGillin points to that as a key to the venture’s success. While the doctors review the diagnosis remotely, patients are able to speak with doctors to ask questions and to make sure they understand the physician’s assessment.

“There are some things you can’t get out of a written report,” he said.

The virtual second opinion venture marks another step in the Cleveland Clinic’s continued expansion.

“I think the promise is all about increasing access,” McGillin said. “From the Cleveland Clinic perspective, the institution's vision and goal is to double the number of patients they see each year. Virtual is a way to make that happen.”

When asked if The Clinic will be expanding its telemedicine options, McGillin said, “We’re really focused on scaling our virtual second opinion business. We think there’s so much more opportunity to reach people in the United States and outside the United States.”

The Cleveland Clinic has expanded its reach internationally. The system operates a hospital in Abu Dhabi and is opening a new hospital in London.

“Global has always been part of the story,” McGillin said. “Patients outside the United States are looking for expertise.”

Analysts project a substantial global market for second medical opinions. Market Research Future estimates the market could rise to $9.7 billion by the end of 2027.

The partnership poses some complexities. The Cleveland Clinic just celebrated its centennial, while Amwell is a much younger company, McGillin said.

“The challenges are what you would expect when you combine a 100-year-old academic medical center and bring it into a digital health space,” McGillin said. “Our other parent is more of a startup mentality.”

McGillin’s experience has him well prepared for the role. Before joining the Clinic, McGillin worked as chief commercial officer at NeuroMetrix, a medical device company. He also spent 13 years in various leadership roles at Philips.

“I know what it’s like to be in both worlds,” he said. “It’s important to bridge that gap.”

The Clinic is following up with patients to find out what they like and don’t like about the experience. So far, patients have been very satisfied, McGillin said.

He’s very optimistic about the prospects for the Clinic’s second opinion service.

“Our goal is to make sure geography is not really a limitation to accessing the best care,” he said. “We want to be sure we’re breaking down that boundary.”