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

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/canary-in-the-coal-mine.jpgw595.jpeg” thumb_width=”150″ /]With 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?)

CVS puts a retail triple spin on telemedicine

A definite boost to telemedicine providers American Well, now-publicly traded Teladoc and Doctor on Demand is retail drugstore CVS Health piloting their services through CVS MinuteClinics, starting in 2016. CVS’ release is disappointingly heavy on company quotations, light on specifics, but what can be determined is that CVS will test various arrangements, including onsite telemedicine in stores, through CVS ‘digital properties’ (presumably online or through apps) and MinuteClinic provider consults with telemedicine provider doctors. It carefully avoids referring to the three companies as ‘partnerships’ though it generically refers to them deep in the release. CVS currently has 1,000 MinuteClinic locations in 32 states and plan to grow by 50 percent by 2017; they have been testing telemedicine in about 50 clinics in Texas and California.

Annoyingly, both CVS and the three companies improperly use ‘telehealth’ in describing their services when correctly they provide only doctor-patient video consults, or telemedicine. The clinic providers (or individuals) may be reporting vital signs data as part of the visit, but tools are not integrated. Equally annoying is CVS, in the release and in conferences, citing a paywalled study (at the not inconsiderable sum of $39.95 / €34.95 / £29.95!) in the Journal of General Internal Medicine (JGIM) of their results. If you are touting that “95 percent of patients were highly satisfied with the quality of care they received, the ease with which telehealth technology was integrated into the visit, and the timeliness and convenience of their care.” –well, with results like that, make some arrangements and grant access to the study! CVS release, Medscape, FierceHealthIT

Drawing a parallel between healthcare and … newspapers

…is the point that Dave Chase, who founded patient information/engagement portal Avado and sold it to WebMD in 2013 (and with them until last month), is making in this Forbes article. As newspapers found their readership leaving in droves for online websites that delivered ‘news they could use’ faster and more interestingly, healthcare systems are finding that their patients are finding healthcare services outside their bricks-and-mortar:

  • Onsite workplace clinics (including telehealth/telemedicine hybrids such as HealthSpot Station–Ed. Donna)
  • Direct primary care providers such as Iora Health, Qliance, DaVita’s Paladina Health
  • Retail clinics: MinuteClinic, TakeCare Health
  • Medicare Advantage-only programs such as CareMore [TTA 5 May] and Healthcare Partners
  • Domestic medical tourism by large, self-insured companies for elective surgeries

This Editor would argue that these forces are at work even in (and perhaps because of) centralized payment systems, and are worldwide, not just in the US. Certain communities such as Rochester, NY, Dubuque IA and Seattle are focusing on lower healthcare as attractions to business–and countries such as Costa Rica, Mexico, Brazil, Singapore, Hungary and India are capitalizing on US-quality facilities and doctors to gain medical tourism for elective and self-paid surgery.