Pharmacies and telehealth: a natural fit?

From the mHealthNews archive
By Eric Wicklund

The idea of telehealth in the local pharmacy is so powerful, even a couple of bitter rivals are working together to achieve it.

Though locked in legal dispute over patent infringement charges, American Well and Teladoc are joining forces as partners in a new telehealth initiative by pharmacy giant CVS Health. The New Jersey-based chain, which operates close to 8,000 sites around the nation, has signed deals with the two and Doctors On Demand – the consumer facing company founded by TV's Dr. Phil, among others - in a bid to offer customers a wide range of healthcare touch points.

CVS plans to expand its telehealth offerings in six states by the fourth quarter of this year. All told, the Rhode Island-based company has 7,800 retail drug stores across the nation, 1,000 of which are equipped with walk-in MinuteClinics, and also serves as the pharmacy benefits manager for some 70 million people.

[See also: New partnerships push mHealth into pharma's realm]

The deals follow an 18-month pilot project in 12 MinuteClinics in California and Texas which ended in June. A follow-up survey of 1,700 of the 14,000 customers who used the service found that 95 percent were "highly satisfied" with the encounter, and one-third said they preferred a telehealth visit over an in-person visit with a doctor.

"During our initial phase of exploration of telehealth in our store-based clinics, we learned that we could deliver excellent quality care and that patients were extremely satisfied with the care provided," Andrew Sussman, MD, executive vice president and associate chief medical officer of CVS Health and president of MinuteClinic, said in a press release. "As we examine additional ways to (use) telehealth to improve and expand patient care, we have the opportunity to partner with telehealth organizations in the care of patients at home. In doing so, CVS Health will add value for patients, clients and health plans by improving access to low-cost quality care."

"A key pillar of our strategy is forging the right partnerships within the industry," Brian Tilzer, senior vice president and chief digital officer of CVS Health, added in the press release. "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."

Interest is high in combining pharmacies with telehealth, as evidenced by Walgreen's extensive forays into the field and Rite Aid's recent deployment of HealthSpot kiosks in dozens its Ohio pharmacies.

"It (the pharmacy) is the destination 99 percent of the time when we have an illness," HealthSpot CEO Steve Cashman pointed out.