CVS Plans to Expand Healthcare Offerings — Here's What That Means for Medical Practices

CVS and HealthHubs

CVS is doubling down on its primary care expansion, with plans to open 1,500 HealthHUB locations by 2021.

Last year’s merger between CVS and Aetna was one of the most impactful that the US healthcare system had ever seen. Though the partnership between the country’s largest pharmacy and one of its biggest health insurers is still uncertain — in fact, a federal hearing kicked off in June to determine its legality — CVS is making further plans to expand.

By the end of 2021, CVS will launch a fleet of about 1,500 “HealthHUBs,” which will serve as expanded versions of its existing MinuteClinics. A MinuteClinic typically has one to two exam rooms and focuses on low-acuity services such as immunizations. HealthHUBS, on the other hand, are intended to offer more robust, everyday services, including blood draws and sleep apnea assessments. 

CVS’s ambitious plan is likely to have widespread implications for the healthcare industry. These expanded service offerings are largely in response to the fact that many patients who visit MinuteClinics do not have primary care physicians. The launch of over a thousand HealthHUBs indicates that CVS may be vying to fill that role.

Why HealthHUBs Have the Potential to Succeed

One of CVS’s goals in creating HealthHUBs is offering customers a more personalized healthcare experience, something that the pharmacy giant has previously struggled to achieve. As of now, CVS stores tend to be largely self-service, and deep personal engagement is not associated with the brand.

However, faced with declining revenue and increasing competition from Amazon, it’s clear that the chain is due for a facelift — and offering full-service primary care may be just the ticket. According to CVS’ chief transformation officer Dr. Alan Lotvin, the company is planning to initially target areas with high rates of chronic disease among Aetna members, while also taking competition into account.

One of the most innovative aspects of the HealthHUB model is its stated use of patient data to offer a more comprehensive and engaging customer experience. Lotvin explains that “linking the digital and physical experience” is key to providing better health outcomes and improving patient loyalty, drawing parallels between what Uber, Google, and Netflix have done for their respective verticals.

How Can Primary Care Physicians Compete?

Though the launch of HealthHUBs has the potential to be transformative, it may also represent a substantial threat to smaller primary care practices. Fortunately, these smaller practices will likely have time to formulate a game plan; rebranding a large, impersonal chain as a leading provider of personalized care will be no easy feat.

That said, in terms of convenience, CVS certainly has a leg up over independent practices. 75 percent of the population lives within four miles of a CVS, and its ability to both prescribe treatments and fill prescriptions in one location will be difficult to beat. 

The best way for small practices to stay abreast of this new competitor is by deploying a full suite of digital capabilities. SEO, search ads, listings in online directories, an engaging and user-friendly website, and a polished social media presence can all help primary care practitioners attract and retain new patients. In addition, offering convenient features such as online appointment bookings or sleek, personalized patient portals, especially in combination with personal, compassionate care, can help independent practices stay on top.

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