CVS Health Launches Virtual Primary Care Service

The new platform adds another player to the competitive primary care market, and could push healthcare providers, ranging from large networks to the solo doctor, to embrace telehealth and digital health as a means of keeping patients and attracting new ones.

The competition for primary care services is getting more crowded.

CVS Health has announced the launch of CVS Health Virtual Primary Care, a new telehealth service being rolled this year to CVS Caremark members and next year to eligible Aetna members. The new platform gives members an on-demand virtual care link to primary care providers, as well as urgent care, chronic care management and behavioral care services, with the option of being seen via telehealth or in person through an in-network provider or MinuteClinic visit.

“We’re meeting people where they are on their healthcare journey and providing care that is more convenient and easier to access,” Creagh Milford, DO MPH, FACOI, vice president of enterprise virtual care for Rhode Island-based CVS Health, said in a press release. “When we make it simple, we can help people lead healthier lives.”

The announcement adds another high-profile player to the primary care marketplace, and may further push health systems, hospitals, medical practices and even solo doctors to enhance their virtual care presence to keep patients and attract new ones. Even now they’re facing competition from telehealth vendors with their own provider resources, stand-alone clinics, health plans and retail corporations like Amazon and Walmart.

The issue was a cornerstone to the recent American Telemedicine Association conference in Boston, where telehealth advocates noted that more and more consumers are demanding virtual care access and steering clear of providers who aren’t making that transition.  

“Who’s going to win the battle for primary care?” asked Joe Kvedar, a Harvard Medical School professor and longtime digital health expert. 

“I think we all agree that patients are the ultimate stakeholders,” Zachariah Reitano, chief executive officer of Ro, a digital health company that started as a platform to help men with health concerns like erectile dysfunction and has now grown to include primary care services, said in a main stage keynote.

“This patient revolution, as cheesy as it sounds, is going to happen,” he said.

The CVS Health announcement addresses recent surveys that a primary care visit takes, on average, 24 days to schedule, while an appointment to see a behavioral healthcare provider averages 48 days. CVS officials say their platform will “schedule timely virtual appointments with [the member’s] care team.”

That team, officials said, will be led by a physician who is selected by the member, and can include nurse practitioners, registered nurses, and licensed vocational nurses. The platform will include virtual access to a CVS pharmacist and “an interoperable electronic health record.”

“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,” Milford said in the press release. “This model shifts from reactive to proactive care that can ultimately improve outcomes and help lower costs.”

Eric Wicklund is the Technology Editor for HealthLeaders.