A basket of reflections, considerations on CVS-Aetna: Epic, Cerner, the model, and hospitals’ role

click to enlargeWith the holidays and the end of the year coming in a little over two short weeks, there’s plenty of room for thoughts, reasoned speculation, and some unusual takes on the CVS-Aetna merger. This Editor remains in her belief that among us, there’s a bit of exhaustion and an attitude of ‘wait and see’ around the topic among us. The canaries have a case of the vapors….

Let’s sort through some of the more interesting POVs expressed of late by our fellow pressies, which Readers can consider in between cups of good cheer and bites of All That Food. Bear in mind that this merger has a long road to go on a hard road, with potholes marked DOJ and (in this Editor’s opinion) HHS, before it’s a done deal in 2018.

  • A big win for Epic. Currently the EHR for CVS’ MinuteClinics and most recently the care management programs of CVS Specialty, Epic is bullish on the opportunities in what their VP of population health termed the ‘gray space’ in the patient experience outside of the traditional sites of care. In October, CVS added Epic’s Healthy Planet population health analytics platform to learn more about drug dispensing patterns and medication adherence–this Editor believes in preparation for merger talks. The open question this Editor has after all the glow in this article is how Aetna’s varied systems (e.g. ActiveHealth, Medicity, and others) would integrate into Epic, and the price of poker, because with Epic it’s never free. Ask any hospital. Healthcare IT News.
    • Certainly, their main competitor Cerner is feeling the heat after a slowdown in its VA plans, the single largest EHR implementation ever. Congress has held up initial funding making the contract effective (Washington Technology). It is geometrically more complicated than their simultaneous DoD implementation, with $10 billion estimated over 10 years (FCW). Other wrenches in the works: a fresh CliniComp lawsuit against Cerner based on infringement against their 2003 patent on remote hosting, and their appeal of the no-bid award to Cerner [TTA 23 Aug] against VA. Kansas City Business Journal, Healthcare IT News
  • Is it going to increase cost? It might. And what about info sharing with providers? A Harvard Medical School professor opined to Marketplace that instead of self-treatment at home for a cold, the patient might actually traipse to a MinuteClinic for care, thus driving up healthcare costs. This resembles the RAND logic around telemedicine consult expense we deflated in a series of articles back in the spring. Information sharing with regular providers is a bigger issue which urgent cares, telemedicine, and clinics already are dealing with. The paradox is that integration with a payer, with a retailer’s ability to track ancillary purchases such as OTC meds and DME purchases, might actually help that issue. But will it? Will a combined CVS-Aetna share information or hoard it, further disempowering patients? This Stat article calls on Mark Bertolini to promote shared information, engagement, and accountability to balance the scales.
  • Do we really need hospitals? If they don’t change, we might need a lot less of them except for highly specialized treatment. And this is likely a good thing. The HBR points out that CVS-Aetna is hardly the only threat to the traditional hospital–there’s Johns Hopkins’ Hospital at Home program for older adults, UnitedHealthcare’s growing network of providers under OptumCare, including the recent deal for DaVita dialysis centers, and free-standing, low-cost “neighborhood” hospitals, almost like pop-up stores. The article doesn’t mention ‘consult stations’ like Europe’s H4D, which is proving that the kiosk idea isn’t dead. 

The reality is that we won’t know what this merger entails until it actually happens, if it happens–and its final shape will take years to mold. Related: CVS-Aetna: the canary says that DOJ likely to review mergerAnalysis of the CVS-Aetna merger: a new era, a canary in a mine–or both?CVS’ bid for Aetna–will it happen, and kick off a trend? (what will Amazon and other retailers, including supermarkets, do?)

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