The deals aim to expand upon a successful pilot program that CVS recently ended in a handful of its 1,000 MinuteClinics. They also underscore the company's continued push to position itself as a resource for consumers seeking broader health-care services, and not just medications.
In addition, they highlight how telehealth services are becoming more commonly used by patients—and embraced by insurers, employers and health-care systems—as a potential way to provide quick care at lower cost.
Advocates say they're able to deliver basic care for less by reducing the number of physical office visits required, instead relying on a patient's computer, tablet, smartphone or landline to act as the virtual "office."
Part of CVS' decision to enter telehealth stems from an expectation that there will be an increase in patient demand for health care in coming years, due to several factors. These include the expansion of insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act, an aging population, the "epidemic" of chronic disease and "the primary physician shortage."
"I think obviously we're at the beginning here," said Dr. Andrew Sussman, executive vice president and associate chief medical officer for CVS Health, and president of its MinuteClinic division.
But, "we're certainly eager to increase access," he said. "We actually think [telehealth] is going to be important in the health system in general."
"I think this is just another piece of the puzzle. It's trying to help with access that leverages technology, and provides care that is high in quality and low in cost," Sussman said.
CVS operates 7,800 retail drug stores nationwide, of which 1,000 have walk-in clinics. The company also acts as a pharmacy benefits manager for 70 million plan members.
Its previous foray into telehealth, which ended in June, was an 18-month pilot program in 12 MinuteClinics in California and Texas. About 14,000 customers ended up receiving online consultations from an off-site clinician.
Out of 1,700 patients who were surveyed, 95 percent were highly satisfied with the quality of care they received, the ease of using the technology, and the timeliness and convenience of the care, according to CVS.
"In addition, one-third of patients indicated they preferred a telehealth visit to a visit with a clinician in the same room," the company said.