CVS is adapting its strategy for specialty pharmacy for COVID-19. Here's how

Specialty pharmacy patients are among healthcare’s most vulnerable. 

Protecting them from COVID-19 has meant moving full speed ahead in growing digital solutions. 

The pandemic has helped make the case for CVS Health's digital solutions, said Prem Shah, executive vice president of specialty pharmacy and product innovation.

“The support and investments we’ve made in the company, specifically in the [pharmacy benefit management (PBM)] and specialty pharmacy range, have really started to resonate and create really good use cases during this pandemic,” he told FierceHealthcare.

That includes, for example, a 30% increase in March alone in encounter volume through CVS Specialty’s secure messaging tool, which allows pharmacists to text members directly to discuss their medications. 

The platform allows pharmacists to respond nimbly to a variety of concerns. For instance, a patient may be struggling to find alcohol pads to use when administering injectable medication, and they can seek assistance with that at home, Shah said. 

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Having tools like this readily allows the team to communicate with members in different ways—especially in current times, where people are largely sheltering in place. Shah said CVS Specialty also adapted its messaging to make it “more applicable and more real” to members during the pandemic. 

Caremark also offers a Pharmacy Advisor program to members with a slew of chronic conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma and depression. In partnership with one of the PBM’s health plan clients, the team reached out proactively to these patients to alert them of options for home delivery for medications along with telehealth options covered by their plan. 

They reached 2,150 of that plan’s members with chronic care needs directly with information key for mitigating the pandemic. 

CVS is also seeing more patients speak up themselves about their worries related to COVID-19, Shah said. 

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Accordant, Caremark’s nurse-led chronic care management subsidiary, has seen an increase in call volumes overall and found that 35% of patients bring up COVID-19 themselves during these calls. 

Half of the calls have included at least five to 10 minutes discussing the pandemic. 

“Our nurse teams are continuing to help manage the fear factor, I would say, for COVID,” Shah said, “but also helping [patients] understand how they could do things differently.” 

That entails, for example, directing immunocompromised patients toward grocery delivery and other services that can help them avoid exposure to the virus. Or working with the patients’ care team to taper drugs that suppress the immune system temporarily, as the risk from related to COVID-19 is so high, Shah said. 

But there’s still room to continue evolving these programs to better serve members’ needs, Shah said. COVID-19 is offering lessons in that way, too. 

“We're at the beginning of this journey,” he said.