CVS Unveils Deals to Expand Telehealth Services for Consumers

Both surveys and peer-reviewed research show patients like telehealth services. CVS' announcement comes after a successful pilot program showed a collaboration of telehealth and the retail clinics produced good results for patients.

CVS Health announced a major advance into telehealth yesterday, listing 3 partners it will work with to provide consumers access to healthcare delivery through either the phone or the Internet.

American Well, Teladoc, and Doctor on Demand will start receiving CVS Health clients in 6 states before the end of the year, according to a statement from the pharmacy provider and benefit manager. In turn, the telehealth companies will collaborate with CVS to refer customers to the pharmacy’s MinuteClinics, which have produced evidence of strong customer feedback and clinical outcomes in peer-reviewed journals, including The American Journal of Managed Care.

Telehealth has become popular with patients, and surveys have shown that consumers feel comfortable with the care they receive. However, for many years state laws and CMS reimbursement constraints prevented telehealth from realizing its full potential.

Nationwide shortages of primary care physicians and elements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that call for better care coordination are forcing healthcare networks and insurers to embrace alternate delivery models that meet patient demands for flexibility—especially their desire to avoid taking time off from work. Young adult patients, in particular, seek nontraditional settings for medical care. Both retail clinics and telehealth services as seen as potential solutions for managing chronic disease and mental illness, and for assisting patients who cannot travel to appointments.

CVS’ decision comes after a successful pilot program that explored the use of telehealth in collaboration with its retail clinics. “We learned that we could deliver excellent quality care and that patients were extremely satisfied with the care provided,” said Andrew Sussman, MD, executive vice president/associate chief medical officer for CVS Health, and president of MinuteClinic. Findings that showed 95% of patients were satisfied with the integration of telehealth and retail care were published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

The potential scale of the venture is large. CVS has 1000 retail clinics among its 7800 drugstores. All 3 telehealth partners are have met important industry benchmarks, with Teladoc listing certification from the National Committee for Quality Assurance, and American Well (Amwell) citing its relationships with major health plans and 600 large employers. Significantly, all 3 tout relationships with behavioral health providers, which has been an area of concern as more consumers gain coverage under the ACA. Some advocates have said access to mental health services called for under federal parity laws is lacking.