Will the CVS Move to HealthHub Stores Work?

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This week, CVS announced that it will be expanding the number of its HealthHub locations to more than 1,500 by the end of 2021. CVS HealthHub stores focus on medical products and services, by providing dietitians, helping people monitor chronic diseases, and adding community rooms that can be used for such services as yoga classes. The company opened three in Houston, Texas, last year on a trial basis.

UConn Today discussed the CVS initiative with Marie Smith, assistant dean for practice and public policy partnerships in the UConn School of Pharmacy and the Dr. Henry A. Palmer Endowed Professor of Community Pharmacy Practice chair. Smith was co-author of a research project in 2017 called “Building the Case: Changing Consumer Perceptions of the Value of Expanded Community Pharmacist Services.”

Q. How do you think the public will react to the new CVS HealthHub stores?

A. I think consumers may be hesitant to think of a CVS store as their “go-to” place for wellness programs and management of chronic diseases. CVS needs to change consumers’ perceptions from its stores being a place where you pick up prescriptions, buy snacks and cosmetics or get vitamins – to now go in and think of it as a retail health and wellness center.

There needs to be good alignment between their business strategy and what the public demand is for seeking Health Hub services. CVS wants to leverage its pharmacy store fronts as accessible, convenient, community-based retail health centers. It remains to be seen if the public will accept a disruptive model for wellness and chronic disease monitoring services.

Q. A lot of your research was done with consumers in their 60s and older. Will younger people, especially the so-called ‘millennials,’ embrace this new concept of health care more than others?

A. Millennials and healthy adults are interested in health care services via their phone apps or in a walk-in setting. So younger and healthier customers may be interested in the wellness, yoga, and prevention initiatives that CVS HealthHub stores will  roll out.

Older adults in their 50s, 60s, and 70s and individuals with chronic diseases tend to have loyalties to their physicians – they may not be as likely to seek care in a retail setting. This group is also very concerned about who has access to their health data, how their health information is being shared, and paying out-of-pocket costs for health care services.

Q. Do you think doctors will change the way they do their job because of this?

A. Personally, I don’t think front-line physicians will practice any differently as a result of HealthHub stores. Medical practitioners and physician organization executives may be concerned about the disruption this might cause in the marketplace and any related strategic business dynamics between traditional medical organizations  and national chain pharmacy corporations.

There are several competitive forces at play for consumer-directed health care services. An early example was when retail pharmacies rolled out walk-in health clinics and immunizations provided by pharmacists. Some members of the medical community are unhappy with such services. They may be skeptical of chronic disease monitoring services offered in retail settings. Convenient care health services can contribute to further fragmentation of patient care in an already broken and uncoordinated health care ecosystem.

Q. Can this be profitable for these large retail pharmacies?

A. They must have some financial forecasting models that indicate HealthHub services look promising or they wouldn’t do it. Consumers will need to be convinced about the value of going to a HealthHub store for yoga classes, dietitian services, or diabetes monitoring. How will CVS shift a consumer’s mindset and behavior toward HealthHub stores – through convenient one-stop shopping, discount coupons, or lower health insurance costs? Are they betting that yoga class participants will buy more self-care products and vitamins? Is there an expectation that dietitian services will boost sales of healthy foods and nutritional supplements? Will patients who pick up their diabetes medications have discounts on purchases for diabetes monitoring supplies and related professional services? Will consumers who have Aetna health insurance plans [through the recent CVS Health Corp.’s acquisition of Aetna Inc.] have financial incentives or lower premiums to use HealthHub services?

Q. What areas of care can be successful for these large retail pharmacies?

A. Today, many consumers are pleased with the convenience of going to a local pharmacy where pharmacists administer immunizations or nurse practitioners can write a prescription for a sore throat or urinary tract infection. These services are accessible, usually don’t require an appointment, and are often paid for by the consumer’s health insurance plan.

We see a plethora of ongoing health care experiments to achieve better consumer experiences, improve care coordination across multiple practitioners and pharmacies, and lower health care spending. However, I don’t think any health plan or provider organization has it all figured out yet, so we need to experiment and see what works for which consumer segments. It will be fascinating to see how the HealthHub initiative impacts consumer behavior and the health care landscape in the coming years.