'Today's norm to tomorrow's everyday routines,' CVS CEO says the pandemic will change customers' shopping, health-care habits

Key Points
  • During the pandemic, more customers have used digital services, such as telemedicine and delivery of prescriptions to the home.
  • CVS Chief Executive Larry Merlo said those emerging trends may become even more popular in the future. 
  • The company, which has opened drive-thru testing for Covid-19, may expand into other kinds of diagnostic testing, too, Merlo said.

In this article

Larry Merlo, CEO, CVS
Scott Mlyn | CNBC

Months and even years from now, leaders of CVS Health say the coronavirus pandemic may still shape how customers shop and use health care — and influence how it operates its own business.

Telemedicine instead of urgent care appointments. Prescription deliveries to the home. Diagnostic tests at the local pharmacy instead of the doctor's office. 

The health-care company's CEO, Larry Merlo, said those trends, which have gained popularity during the pandemic, may offer a preview of the future. He said in a Wednesday earnings call that CVS is starting to see "a new normal emerge."

"We expect that elements of today's new norm will become part of tomorrow's everyday routines," he added.

The drugstore chain had strong sales in the first quarter, as customers ordered 90-day supplies of prescriptions, refilled medications early and stocked up on items in the front of the store. CVS beat Wall Street's expectations for earnings and revenue for the quarter, which ended March 31. 

The drugstore chain saw sudden and dramatic changes to its business because of Covid-19. Virtual visits through Minute Clinic, its urgent care service, were up 600% compared with the same quarter in 2019. Home delivery of prescriptions surged by 1,000%. Use of the company's app increased double digits. And CVS had a fourfold increase in the number of customers adding front of the store items, such as toilet paper or soap, to prescription home deliveries.

Use of CVS-owned health insurance company, Aetna, spiked, too. More households used the Aetna Health app in the first quarter than the first three quarters of 2019 combined, he said.

The company's chief operating fficer, Jonathan Roberts, said customers may want health care delivered differently because of the pandemic. For example, he said a recent survey indicated that more consumers want to get their flu shot at the local pharmacy instead of their doctor's office.

He said telemedicine will "be an integral part of how we go to market moving forward."

The pandemic may inspire CVS to offer new and different kinds of testing, Merlo said.

During the pandemic, the company has opened and staffed drive-thru testing sites for Covid-19. Patients must make an appointment and meet the criteria of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CVS has administered nearly 90,000 tests, Merlo said. The sites use a device made by Abbott Laboratories that can provide results in minutes. Last week, it announced plans to have nearly 1,000 drive-thru testing sites in its store parking lots by the end of May, so long as it can get supplies and lab capacity.

And, as researchers try to develop vaccines and treatments for Covid-19, Merlo said CVS is ready to provide another service. He said its stores across the country "are well-positioned to provide medication therapies and vaccines when they become available."

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