CVS Health and Aetna – Defining the Corner of Happy and Healthy!

Yesterday CVS Health announced that it has agreed to buy Aetna for $69 billion. If the deal goes through, it should send shock waves through the health care system. CVS is not only the largest pharmacy chain in the US, but it is also the 7th largest company in the US with approximately 9600 retail stores in 2016. But CVS Health has plans to move beyond being just a pharmacy and convenience store to become a bona fide healthcare company. The emerging 3-part strategy is potentially powerful! One part of the strategy is to expand the current offerings of CVS pharmacy’s to included more traditional healthcare services that formerly required hospital or doctor’s office visits. Given that CVS Health already provides healthcare services through its more than 1,100 MinuteClinic medical clinics as well as their Diabetes Care Centers currently located within CVS stores this transition is likely doable. The second part of the strategy appears to be aimed at driving down healthcare costs through creating a virtually wholly owned prescription drug ecosystem, not unlike the IOS ecosystem created by Apple. which is on the brink of becoming the first trillion-dollar and most successful company in the world. The third part of the strategy, which builds on the first two parts, is focused on driving value for consumers. While some may doubt their ability to accomplish this goal, the rising popularity of retail healthcare outlets, the potential for vastly enhanced consumer healthcare experience (little to no waiting lines or delays in seeing providers, easy access to medical facilities located in local communities, lower medication and care delivery costs, familiar, trusted care delivery settings combined with convenience shopping opportunities) strongly suggests that the essential elements are indeed in place. Interestingly, this vision and emerging strategy is in line with that of Aetna the 3rd largest health insurance company in America. Aetna’s CEO, Mark Bertolini took things even a step further last month while speaking at the Healthcare of tomorrow conference where he said that it will soon be possible to provide the bulk of care patients need, in the home and community. So, in the near future, “if you must go to the hospital, [the healthcare system] will have failed you”. In this new world traditional high cost, brick and mortar tertiary healthcare systems will simply not be able to compete on costs, convenience and as the evidence is beginning to indicate, not even quality. Their ability to pivot to a more sustainable care delivery model that substantially improves patient experience and value, will be limited. As such, the classic scenario for disruption, as originally articulated by Harvard Business School Professor, Clayton Christensen, and as applied to the organization and delivery of healthcare by Johns Hopkins experts  Gibbons and Shaikh, is in place and could eventually significantly impact the traditional healthcare system as we know it. Rather than sticking their heads in the sand, CVS and Aetna appear to be embracing the challenges that lay ahead and seizing the opportunities these changes bring. It remains to be seen, if others will join them, or be left behind.

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