CVS Health rolls out virtual primary care service

Retail drugstore giant CVS is rolling out a virtual care service that gives consumers access to primary care, on-demand care, chronic condition management and mental health services.

Eligible Aetna and CVS Caremark members will be able to use the virtual primary care service to access healthcare services on demand, whether at home or in a retail or community-based setting. Members also will have the option of being seen in person at an in-network provider, including CVS MinuteClinic locations. The virtual primary care provider can also help members identify appropriate in-network specialists and other in-network health service providers, according to the company.

The virtual solution will roll out to Aetna members starting Jan. 1, 2023, and for eligible CVS Caremark members during the second quarter of 2023. Caremark also will introduce virtual specialty care solutions on the platform in 2023.

The CVS Health virtual primary care service complements Aetna’s virtual care strategy currently in the market, which was launched last August, according to a CVS spokesperson.

CVS Health Virtual Primary Care is a payer-agnostic solution that connects the company’s services, clinical expertise and data on a single digital platform for a more coordinated and consumer-centric experience, the spokesperson told Fierce Healthcare.

The solution features an interoperable electronic health record that can be used across CVS Health primary care’s physician-led care team and sites of care, and it includes tighter connections to CVS pharmacists. The platform is scalable and intended to evolve to include more CVS Health services.

“We’re meeting people where they are on their health care journey and providing care that is more convenient and easier to access. When we make it simple, we can help people lead healthier lives,” said Creagh Milford, a doctor of osteopathic medicine, vice president, enterprise virtual care at CVS Health, in a statement.

On average, it takes 24 days to schedule an appointment with a primary care physician, and the average wait time to see a mental health provider in-person is 48 days, according to CVS executives.

The virtual primary care service will feature a member-selected physician-led care team that can consist of nurse practitioners, registered nurses and licensed vocational nurses. The care team will consult with a dedicated CVS pharmacist when needed, which can provide opportunities for medication management, the company said.

By leveraging an interoperable electronic health record, Aetna and CVS Caremark members can transition between virtual and in-person care, and clinical data can also be shared with their other providers. 

“By offering a connected care team where providers can easily exchange clinical information on behalf of their patients, and an extensive local footprint for in-person care follow-up, we’re able to provide consistent, high-quality care. This model shifts from reactive to proactive care that can ultimately improve outcomes and help lower costs,” Milford said.

CVS is the latest healthcare player to expand or launch such a platform in an increasingly crowded primary care market.

Virtual primary care and virtual-first health plans have been a trend in the industry following an explosion in telehealth and virtual care use under the COVID-19 pandemic.

Major payers including UnitedHealthcare, Anthem and Aetna have all launched virtual primary care solutions in various markets. Cigna also expanded access to virtual care through its MDLive subsidiary, including the launch of a new virtual-first health plan pilot for select employers. The insurer said the new programs are an early result of its acquisition of the telehealth company, which closed last April. 

Traditional providers are now contending telehealth companies, standalone clinics, health plans and corporations like Amazon and Walmart. Last year, Walmart acquired MeMD, a multispecialty telehealth provider, in an effort to significantly expand its telehealth capabilities. 

Amazon piloted its healthcare business in 2019 to provide virtual urgent care services to its employees and their families in the Seattle region. The online retail behemoth now offers its virtual primary care service, called Amazon Care, to companies and Amazon employees in all 50 states. Amazon Care also offers in-person care in cities including Seattle, Baltimore, Boston, Dallas, Austin, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Arlington, Virginia, and is on track to rapidly expand its hybrid care model to more than 20 additional cities in 2022.

CVS Health has been exploring virtual care options since 2015 when its MinuteClinic locations began piloting telehealth services, according to the company.