Even with Amazon threatening to compete with retail drugstore chains CVS Health and Walgreens with its own online pharmacy, these retailers aren’t giving up on brick-and-mortar as a way to attract more patients into their stores.
And that’s bad news for the nation’s hospitals and health systems.
There’s a building threat from the nation’s two retail drugstore giants to hospitals and health systems as medical care providers move away from fee-for-service medicine to value-based care and lower-cost outpatient services.
Walgreens and CVS are looking to healthcare as a way to keep customers coming into their stores, particularly in an era where consumers are fleeing brick-and-mortar to shop online via Amazon.
As front-end retail sales have fallen in recent years, CVS and Walgreens are moving more rapidly into healthcare from simply their historic role of filling prescriptions beyond the pharmacy counter and treating routine maladies with nurse practitioners in their retail centers to more services.
They are partnering more closely with health insurance companies that will work harder to funnel more patients to outpatient healthcare services inside the stores that will make them direct competitors of U.S. hospitals and health systems.
CVS has more than 1,100 retail MinuteClinics compared to 800 five years ago and 400 a decade ago.
CVS was opening 100 clinics per year 10 years ago, and that has slowed because they are now focusing on expanding healthcare services in the clinics as well as their stores generally. The same goes for Walgreens.
Walgreens has increased the services in its retail clinics, advertising the ability of nurse practitioners to conduct routine exams and student physicals and has been aggressively lobbying states across the country to change scope-of-practice laws to allow pharmacists to administer an array of vaccines.
“Why not use those locations as a strategy for healthcare?” Walgreens Chief Medical Officer Dr. Patrick Carroll says of the drugstore chain’s nearly 10,000 locations across the country. “We have the space. We should use it.”
To be sure, Walgreens is looking to provide more physician services like x-rays and procedures by partnering with UnitedHealth Group’s Optum to connect its MedExpress brand urgent care centers to an adjacent Walgreens. Like most retailers, Walgreens’ sales of general merchandise in the front end of the store is falling just as pharmacy sales, personal healthcare, and wellness revenues rise.
In the first such ventures, the Walgreens store and the MedExpress center each have their own entrance with a door inside connecting the urgent care center with the drugstore. It’s designed for a medical provider to guide a patient to either facility depending on their prescription or other needs.
For now, there are 15 locations in six states that have MedExpress urgent care centers connected to Walgreens stores as part of the pilot. The markets include Las Vegas; Dallas; Minneapolis; Omaha, Nebraska; two cities in West Virginia; and Martinsville, Virginia.
“We’re working closely with a number of partners in the healthcare community to bring services closer to our customers,” Carroll said. “With our stores serving as more of a neighborhood health destination, we can best meet the changing needs of our customers, while also complementing our expanded pharmacy services.”
Meanwhile, CVS plans to offer more healthcare services inside its stores after its merger with Aetna closes. CVS executives say they aren’t ruling out developing urgent care centers as well.
CVS’ network of nearly 10,000 pharmacies and over 1,000 retail clinics, and Optum’s growing network of ambulatory facilities like the MedExpress urgent care centers are emerging as a model health insurers want to do business with as fee-for-service medicine gives way to value-based care that keeps patients out of the hospital.
And in CVS’ case, the pharmacy will soon own Aetna, a health plan with more than 20 million members. That combination, which is currently wending its way through the regulatory process, is expected to lead to more narrow network health plans that encourage patients to use providers in the Aetna-CVS network over other health systems’ facilities.
Health systems should be concerned, healthcare analysts say.
“CVS and Aetna, in their own words, are promising to reinvent the front door of American healthcare,” says Kenneth Kaufman, managing director and chair of the consulting firm Kaufman Hall. “That promise should be of serious concern for legacy hospital providers since those providers have occupied that front door for the past 75 years.”
CVS Health President and CEO Larry Merlo is beginning to offer some details to their strategies.
While cautioning that it’s “very early” in the development of new programs the combined company will develop, Merlo has said the larger company plans to first focus on three primary patient populations: those patients with any of five chronic diseases: diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, asthma, and depression.
CVS and Aetna will also focus on “patients undergoing transitions in care,” and a third “broader focus on managing high-risk patients,” Merlo told analysts on the company’s second quarter earnings call in May.
“By extending our new health care model more broadly in the marketplace, patients will benefit from earlier interventions and better connected care leading to improved health outcomes,” Merlo said on September 20 at a CVS Health town hall meeting in Los Angeles.
“Think again about that senior leaving the hospital, knowing that the care plan prescribed by her doctor is being seamlessly coordinated by CVS and her caregiver. By fully integrating Aetna’s medical information and analytics with CVS Health’s pharmacy data and our 10,000 community locations, we can enable more effective treatment of the whole patient,” he says.
Practicing medicine is bad for your health. Mounting evidence shows that stress-related burnout is a significant and growing threat to doctors – and their patients. If there is a silver lining, it is that the medical community is beginning to acknowledge and address the complex factors at play, recognizing that good health care must include caring for the caregivers.
Numerous studies reveal that physician burnout – generally defined as a loss of enthusiasm for work, feelings of cynicism and a low sense of personal accomplishment – is a major problem.
A Medscape survey found that 51 percentof doctors surveyed in 2016 said they suffered from burnout, an increase of more than 25 percent since 2013. This dovetails with a 2015 paper published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, which reported a burnout rate of 54.4 percent in 2014, compared with a 45.5 percent rate in 2011. These burnout rates are almost twice as high as those found in the general population.
A 2015 Mayo Clinic study reported that roughly 40 percent of physicians suffer depression each year and almost 7 percent had considered suicide within the prior 12 months. It is estimated that 300 to 400 doctors take their lives every year.
The pain and suffering those statistics only hint at is bad enough. They are compounded by findings that burnout corrodes the doctor-patient relationship, resulting in lower levels of patient satisfaction, job satisfaction and productivity as well as higher levels of medical errors and disruptive behavior.
Many forces are driving this trend: long work days (doctors work an average of 50 hours per work, 10 more than other Americans), the demands of juggling busy careers with family obligations and the pressures caused by student debt (the average medical school graduate with student loans owes about $190,000 upon graduation).
These and other factors – especially the challenges of balancing work-home obligations – take a special toll on female doctors, whose burnout rates as twice as high as their colleagues, making them more likely to leave the profession.
Still, there is one significant new development that seems to be driving the recent increase in burnout: electronic health records (EHRs). It is no coincidence that the spike in burnout rates has come at the same time as the broad adoption of EHRs. Someday, EHRs may revolutionize health care by dramatically increasing our ability to share and review patient information. But today, EHRs are turning many physicians into clerks. It can take 32 clicks to order and record a single flu shot. Some studies show that doctors now spend about two hours on paper and desk work for every hour they devote to deliver direct patient care.
It is hard to overstate how much this dispiriting lack of personal contact, which is the major reason people choose careers in medicine, leads to the depersonalization and depression that are the hallmarks of burnout.
Perhaps the best evidence that practicing medicine is bad for one’s health is studies showing that medical students begin their training with stronger mental health profiles than their fellow college graduates. This advantage vanishes and a deficit emerges as they progress through their schooling, residency and professional practice.
As in medicine, we must identify the problem before we can treat it. A crucial step was taken in July when the National Academy of Medicine called on researchers to identify interventions that ease burnout. Many universities and academic hospitals have already been exploring ways to address the problem.
At the University of Michigan we established two groups earlier this year – one to look at burnout among our doctors, the other among our younger residents. It is still too early to say what might work. But ideas to help physicians achieve a better work-life balance, including more flexible scheduling that recognizes family commitments as well as better child care assistance, seem promising. So, too, does the use of “scribes” to handle some paperwork chores and drawing a sharper distinction between the care only doctors can deliver and that which can be provided effectively by physician’s assistants and other trained personnel.
Above all, we must allow doctors to ask for help and provide them with the care they need without penalty. Medicine has long been hampered by the ancient myth of invincibility – the notion that physicians must never show weakness, every embodying grace under pressure. This is not only wrong, it’s dangerous.
Physician burnout is a national crisis. Unfortunately, it does not offer a quick fix. Medicine will always be a uniquely demanding profession, requiring years of training and long hours of service to be ready to make life and death decisions.
Fortunately, a broad consensus has emerged in the medical community that doctors cannot provide the best care for their patients if we don’t figure out how to take care of them.
Mapping technologies and population health make a beautiful pairing. Using geographical data can assist care delivery strategies as tech tools such as GIS can track and trend health data for a community overtime.
“As the move to accountable care and value-based payments takes hold, providers and health plans are increasingly interested in applying GIS to assess risk based on geography and the populations that live there, reveal where the greatest need is, and prioritize areas for interventions,” Danny Patel, account executive for health and human services at GIS software maker Esri, told Healthcare Dive in May.
While providers can look to reduce unnecessary readmissions using such efforts, plans like Blue Cross Blue Shield Association – which recently released its new BCBS Health Index – can use local health data to understand the health of a county/population. The tool, using blinded claims data from more than 40 million commercially-insured BCBS members, identifies the health conditions with the greatest impact on the commercially insured. The tool includes information on over 200 conditions.
“What the health index gives us is the ability to work with local stakeholders…to talk about where we need to focus broader health resources,” Maureen Sullivan, chief strategy and innovation officer at Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, told Healthcare Dive. She said the tool isn’t a “healthiest place to live” navigator but rather a starting point to understand conditions affecting communities and develop peer networks.