The Rundown on CVS Aetna Digital Strategy

CVS & Aetna

Can digital solutions bring more services to a pharmacy?

Recently I read an interesting article from HealthLeaders that interviewed Aetna’s Chief Digital Officer Firdaus Bhathena about digital technology and healthcare. I thought it would be an interesting rundown on key points provided in the article and what we can assume may be changes that occur after the CVS/Aetna merger at the end of this year. My thoughts are in Italics.

  • Aetna believes that AI will play a significant role in healthcare and that connected devices will be a ‘big deal’ And isnt eveyone into that these days?

  • CVS can be a big player in virtual care. Which can be seen with CVS and Walgreens already rolling out digital and teleservices in Q3 of this year.

  • They see a tiered-approach as key to identify issues in patients through collected data to then refer to in-person interactions. Good example would be Omada and similar companies, that use digital coaching to help with disease management, and if chatbots, reminders, don’t work then a personal coach comes into play. Helps with scalability of services. Not every patient needs personal touch points all the time.

  • CVS can serve as a ‘one-stop-shop’ health hub for patient care. Wether this will compete with other healthcare providers is up in the air but Aetna doesn’t think so.

  • A digital ecosystem and local on the ground outreach will be key. Many digital products lack that in-person support. This seems to be the CVS solution to competing with Amazon/PillPack specter to leverage further clinical services outside of just tele/on-demand.

  • Increasing mobile services is big. One app design they were talking about as an example was a patient who needed to get a mammogram, and just so happened to walk into a location out of network, it would let them know. (I’d be curious if it could reach the point where it could see your appointments in a planner or such and let you know beforehand).

  • Use of machine learning and data analytics to better identify how much costs will be for patients (by basically analyzing how current practitioners are billing) to give better estimates than currently available. So, if you go with doctor/facility X it would be $xx.xx vs doctor/facility Y. So, a GoodRx for your medical services I feel.

  • Exploring health beyond annual touchpoints. Health and wellness and mental status are huge for patients. So how do they expand such services. I feel we can see more app development or acquisitions here at some point. Headspace or similar digital therapeutics could come into play.

  • CVS and Aetna will need to build trust in this endeavor with patients. There have been too many flashpoints this year between Google, Amazon, and Facebook with data privacy. They are already tech heavy, and if CVS/Aetna want to get into this, I feel they have a lot more responsibility with health information at their forefront.

Implications for Pharmacy

One thing that stands out to me about this digital strategy from Aetna angle is they want to use the pharmacy as a health hub to an extent. I can envision their plan to identify issues or health concerns from patients, and at low stakes, send them to a pharmacy for a mid-level practitioner to address their needs. Perhaps for more simple issues to a pharmacist as well for OTC solutions or limited prescribing rights based on the state. Obviously, the lower tier on billing services (or none for pharmacists) reduce costs overall for a siloed approach for patients in the CVS/Aetna realm. I could see this as a positive for pharmacists to get more clinical duties, but because it may not product money, could lead to further workloads which is a concern of mine as well.

Welcome any of your thoughts!