How CVS uses telehealth, EHRs to improve patient care

While telemedicine and electronic health records are helping health providers to improve the quality of care delivered to patients, they also are helping pharmacy retailers stake a legitimate claim in the industry, according to Tobias Barker, vice president of medical operations for CVS MinuteClinic.

Barker (pictured), speaking earlier this week at the eHealth Initiative's iThrive Challenge in the District of Columbia, said MinuteClinic already boasts 1,000 sites in 32 states, and by 2017, that number will be 1,500.

Telemedicine, he said, is a big reason why.

"We started [telemedicine] about a year and a half ago in Texas and California," Barker said. "If you go to California or Texas, we have over 50 clinics."

Each clinic, he said, has a virtual waiting room equipped with high-definition video and audio tools. Patients who opt for treatment via telemedicine can then be seen by any other available MinuteClinic provider within the same state. A licensed vocational nurse acts as a remote physician's hands.

Citing statistics from a study published this week in the Journal of General Internal Medicine examining patient satisfaction with telehealth services delivered at the MinuteClinic, Barker said of the roughly 1,700 patients surveyed, one-third actually preferred telehealth visits over traditional in-person visits.

Regarding EHRs, Barker talked about CVS' partnerships with health systems, which enable MinuteClinics to pull and share information on patients, as necessary. In July, CVS Health announced such an agreement with Bethlehem, Pennsylvania-based St. Luke's University Health Network; a month earlier, it announced similar arrangements with four providers in four different states (California, Florida, Nebraska and New York).

Barker said the opportunity to care for chronic patients, in particular, is vast.

"You can imagine the potential," he said. "If you take a healthcare system that has a large diabetic population, for instance, you can really co-manage that population."

Last month, CVS Health and IBM announced a partnership in which employees of the former will use the latter's Watson cognitive computing capabilities to provide guidance to patients and work with primary care doctors to treat chronic diseases.

In addition, Barker said CVS is already in some health information exchanges, and plans to join more soon.

To learn more:
- check out the JGIM study