CVS' MinuteClinics are going virtual.
The drugstore chain plans to make video visits available nationwide by the end of the year through a partnership with Teladoc Health, CVS' latest pivot away from retail and toward health-care services. CVS already offers virtual appointments, branded as MinuteClinic Video Visits, in nine states and the District of Columbia.
MinuteClinics treat people with minor illness and injuries like coughs and rashes. These walk-in locations are a way to keep customers coming into CVS' stores as more shoppers buy everyday items on Amazon. Making it possible to visit a MinuteClinic without actually walking into one may hamper that, but it could help CVS reach more people.
With virtual visits, known in the industry as telehealth or telemedicine, CVS can reach people who may not be able to visit one of its roughly 1,100 locations. MinuteClinics are a key part of CVS' $69 billion acquisition of health insurer Aetna.
"At CVS Health, we're committed to delivering high-quality care when and where our patients need it and at prices they can afford," CVS Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Troyen Brennan said in a statement. "Through this new telehealth offering, patients now have an additional option for seeking care that is even more convenient for them."
People seeking virtual care can access it through the CVS Pharmacy app. They'll be connected with one of Teladoc's providers rather than a MinuteClinic. CVS says patients will receive the same level of care because providers are expected to assess and treat patients based on its guidelines.
Visits will cost $59, less expensive than most services offered in stores, according to a list of prices. They cannot initially be covered under insurance, though CVS said that will change in coming months.
The nationwide rollout comes after four years of experimentation. CVS first tested telehealth with pilots in California and Texas in 2014. It started tests with Teladoc, American Well and Doctor on Demand the following year.
Rival Walgreens unveiled a telehealth platform last month called "Find Care Now." It connects people with providers offering virtual visits, including nearby hospital systems and urgent care centers. The cost varies by provider and service, though a video chat with a doctor through NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital starts at $99, according to Walgreens' website.
The drugstore chains are searching for ways to connect with consumers as they brace for Amazon's entry into the space. After nearly a year of speculation, Amazon entered the pharmacy industry this summer with its $1 billion acquisition of PillPack.
Walgreens CEO Stefano Pessina brushed off concerns, telling Wall Street analysts immediately after the announcement that he's "not particularly worried" it. CVS CEO Larry Merlo addressed the "competitive landscape" Wednesday during a conference call with Wall Street analysts to discuss the company's second-quarter financial results.
"Online and mail order pharmacy has existed for many years ,and CVS Health dispenses millions of scripts this way for patients each and every week," Merlo said. "But our delivery model goes well beyond that foundation in ways that are very hard to build or replicate."