Digital Transformation By Fire: The Cleveland Clinic Story

How Cleveland Clinic Accomplished Years Worth of Automation and Digitization in Just 2 Weeks

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We all remember the day in March 2020 when everything changed. Entire businesses closed, millions of workers transitioned to a work-from-home environment and people prepared for wide-spread lockdowns. 

However, while most of us were retreating from the coronavirus, hospitals were ramping up to tackle the virus head on. For many, such as the Cleveland Clinic, this meant investing in new digital technologies to expedite patient care and expand, if not build from scratch, telemedicine services. 

Cleveland Clinic’s Digital Transformation Origin Story

As one of the leading healthcare providers in the world, the Cleveland Clinic (CC) has existed at the forefront of innovation for much of its 100 year history. From pioneering the first successful coronary artery bypass surgery in 1958 to, more recently, establishing its cutting-edge clinical AI innovation hub, CC has a proven track record of embracing and leveraging the latest technologies to not only engineer medical breakthroughs, but transform healthcare delivery models as well. 

In the years preceding the Covid-19 pandemic, Cleveland Clinic was already working towards becoming a healthcare “digital disrupter.” As Neurosurgeon Peter Rasmussen, CC’s Medical Director of Digital Health, explained in an interview published on the organization’s website,  “To stay relevant in a world that is dominated by smartphones and tablets, physicians must change their practices.” He continued, “In the last decade, we have changed the model of care by virtualizing the practice of medicine where it makes clinical and economic sense.

Telemedicine-enabled virtual visits are increasing providers’ efficiency in the era of bundled payments, while providing a lower-cost and more convenient care option for many patients. Frequently, this online care reduces ED visits.”

For them this meant investing heavily in digital marketing efforts, distance health enablement, eHospital solutions and Patient/Caregiver Apps. 

*Image sourced from Delivering Care Anytime, Anywhere The Digital Transformation Journey


Fast Forward to March 2020

Like many organizations, despite a multitude of public proclamations and promises, not all of digital transformation objectives were pursued with equal vigor. That is until the pandemic forced them to accelerate these efforts. 

In order to accommodate the anticipated surge of patients, Cleveland Clinic realized they needed to:

  • Rapidly scale digital platforms enabling patients to more easily book appointments online and access accurate medical information 
  • Expand telehealth services and platforms to enable patients to interact with healthcare providers remotely. 
  • Rapidly train upwards of 4,000 healthcare workers to treat patients remotely.
  • Automate and optimize as many behind-the-scenes workflows as possible to significantly reduce the administrative burden placed on healthcare workers as well as operational staff in an increasingly intense and overwhelming work environment

As a result of this rapid digital transformation gameplan, in under 2 weeks, Cleveland Clinic was able to expand their telehealth services from serving just 2% of their population to 75%. They also developed a new risk management algorithm that synthesized 120 variables from the electronic health record, claims data, and labs and other results, to determine the likelihood that someone might experience negative health outcomes in any given scenario. Using this algorithm, healthcare workers were able to more accurately identify which coronavirus patient needed what intervention. Using this tool, CC was able to significantly enhance at-home monitoring and treatment resulting in a 35% reduction in hospitalizations.

They also expanded their use of RPA to automate and optimize patient-facing workflows such as COVID-19 testing and label printing. In partnership with UiPAth, CC developed and deployed a fleet of attended RPA bots to handle the end-to-end process: collecting patient data, validating whether or not they are already a patient in the EMR via a Citrix environment, registering the patients, and correctly selecting the right printer for label creation.

Using these new RPA bots, Cleveland Clinic was able to reduce the time it takes to complete these tasks from 2-3 minutes to 14-16 seconds. In addition, they were able to reduce printer-related error rates down to zero. 

AND, just in case you weren’t already impressed, they were able to successfully set up and launch these RPA bots in under 48 hours.



The Path Towards Enterprise-Wide Digital Innovation 

One of the more surprising results of the massive transition is that it sparked interest in functional areas that haven’t always been so invested in digital transformation. "Don't underestimate the amount of research that your physicians and your other administrators and even your nursing staff are doing into some of these advanced technologies.” CIO of Cleveland Clinic, Matthew Kull explained at a recent CC event. “When I get a call from a physician out of the blue that says, 'Hey Matt, I want to talk to you about this deep data mining technology, when can we sit down and have that conversation?' Three years ago I would have never have thought of that happening. It just was not common."

Often once people experience first hand how easy it is to use digital tool and, most importantly, how it makes their job easier, they’ll not only embrace this new way of working, they’ll proactively pursue new applications and use cases. 

While its clear innovation invites more innovation, “the question I have is has innovation exploded, or have the barriers gone to the wayside?" Will Morris, MD, executive medical director, Cleveland Clinic Innovations commented at Medical Innovation Summit.

In other words, perhaps the COVID-19 crisis didn’t so much push CC to innovate but rather eliminated the various roadblocks in place (i.e. outdated policies, change resistance, lack of training, etc.) that prevented them from doing so in the past.

It’s an interesting question for many organizations who may be struggling against organizational inertia or other obstacles standing in the way of creating a digital enterprise. Do you wait until disaster strikes and hope you’re up for the challenge like Cleveland Clinic was? Or do you tackle these roadblocks now and avoid potential catastrophe down the line?

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