CVS Health taps three doctor video visits companies to expand its telehealth efforts

By Brian Dolan
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DrAndrewSussmanCVSMinuteClinicThis year continues to be a breakout one for doctor video visits: CVS Health announced this morning that it is working with three established remote visits companies: American Well, Doctor On Demand, and Teladoc, to expand its telehealth capabilities and services. Dr. Andrew Sussman, the EVP and associate chief medical officer of CVS Health and the president of MinuteClinic told MobiHealthNews via email that CVS plans on piloting the telehealth services in half a dozen states and expects to leverage different telehealth companies in different regions of the country.

Sussman pointed to four potential models of care for telehealth services through CVS. The most straightforward would be integrating a telehealth vendor's services right onto CVS.com or MinuteClinic.com. Another would be extending MinuteClinic's providers' scope by giving them the option to consult with telehealth physicians -- since MinuteClinic has no physicians on-site -- to expand the clinic's care capabilities beyond those of nurse practitioners and physician assistants when clinically appropriate. Another potential area of collaboration would see CVS MinuteClinics serving as a brick-and-mortar access point of care for consumers who use a telehealth service direct-to-consumer. Finally, Sussman mentioned the care model his company recently piloted: linking Minute Clinics via in-clinic telehealth systems to better distribute the patient load from one clinic to another less busy one. 

That final care model was the subject of a pilot CVS completed last year. The pilot found that one third of CVS MinuteClinic telehealth users actually preferred a video visit to an in-person one, according to a survey of 1,700 MinuteClinic telehealth users conducted by CVS between January and September 2014 and recently published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Sussman indicated to MobiHealthNews that the partnership with three telehealth vendors is not a horse race. The intention is not to pick a best-of-breed winner at the end of the pilot.

"As the telehealth space continues to develop, there are a number of strong partners with unique capabilities.  By choosing these three leaders in the telehealth arena, we expect to advance what good telehealth means while we explore different use cases," he told MobiHealthNews. "We look forward to working alongside each of our partners to identify ways to make care more accessible to patients. In terms of structure, we envision that we will have different telehealth partners work in distinct geographic areas to illustrate the efficacy of their models. We are just embarking on these new relationships, so we have not put a specific timeframe on their duration. But for now, we are not seeking any additional telehealth partners."

Sussman shared two types of visits that he envisions as being common ones as a result of the partnerships with telehealth vendors.

"A patient visits a MinuteClinic nurse practitioner or physician assistant at a clinic location for a skin rash. In certain instances the MinuteClinic practitioner could consult with a telehealth physician to evaluate the rash and provide an appropriate course of treatment. [And] a patient consulting with a telehealth physician might have a condition that requires some direct physical care intervention, like a throat culture to evaluate for strep throat. MinuteClinic could be among the providers to whom the telehealth physician could send the patient."

While Sussman made clear CVS isn't looking for additional partnerships with remote visits vendors at this time, his colleague Brian Tilzer, the senior vice president and chief digital officer of CVS Health, said in a statement that the recent partnerships are part of a wider effort at CVS to work with more connected health companies.

"A key pillar of our strategy is forging the right partnerships within the industry," Tilzer said. "We recognize that some of the best ideas are already being developed, so we're committed to partnering with other companies to explore and expand on these ideas together."