CVS Offers Doc Visits via Smartphone Video

CVS Health’a retail MinuteClinic on Wednesday announced MinuteClinic Video Visits, a new virtual healthcare offering designed to assist people with minor illnesses and injuries, skin conditions, and other wellness needs.

The telehealth offering will provide 24/7 access to healthcare services via mobile devices.

It is available for both Android and iOS in nine states: Arizona, California, Florida, Idaho, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, New Hampshire, and Virginia. It also is available in Washington, D.C.

“We are planning to expand to other states in the weeks and months ahead,” said CVS Health spokesperson Amy Lanctot.

Rules and regulations governing telehealth vary greatly by state, she noted.

“At this time, we are focused on the states where we can implement this new virtual care offering quickly and efficiently,” Lanctot told TechNewsWorld.

The service will be rolled out nationwide, where it’s allowed, by the end of the year.

“A combination of supportive telemedicine laws and reimbursement models drive what’s available,” said Ray Wang, principal analyst at Constellation Research.

“For example, telemedicine rules in Texas are the most restrictive,” he told TechNewsWorld.

A MinuteClinic Video Visit costs US$59, payable by credit or debit card.

“Since it’s currently a [paid] service, it’s available to any and all consumers who live in the states where the service is offered,” Lanctot noted.

Insurance coverage will be added in the coming months.

CVS has more than 9,800 retail locations and more than 1,100 walk-in MinuteClinic locations in 33 states and the District of Columbia. All are located in select CVS Pharmacy and Target stores.

What the Service Covers

The service is available to patients who are at least two years old. Treatment is limited to minor illnesses, minor injuries, or a skin condition.

Among the minor illnesses covered by the MinuteClinic Video Visits service:

  • Coughs and bronchitis
  • Diarrhea
  • Earaches and ear infections
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Gout
  • Heartburn and indigestion
  • Nausea
  • Pink eye
  • Seasonal allergies
  • Sinus infections
  • Sore throats
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Upper respiratory infections
  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
  • Vomiting

Injuries covered include blisters, bug bites, joint pains, minor burns, and cuts, sprains, stings, and strains.

Skin conditions include athlete’s foot, eczema, impetigo, lice, minor psoriasis, poison ivy and oak reactions, ringworm, scabies, shingles, skin rash, sunburn, and warts.

Conditions commonly affecting women, including UTIs and yeast infections, also are covered.

Information on the conditions treated through MinuteClinic Video Visits is available on the CVS Pharmacy app.

A standard video visit is 15 minutes, “the amount of time needed to handle most medical conditions,” Lanctot said.

“The key benefit here is expediency,” remarked Rebecca Wettemann, VP of research at Nucleus Research.

The big advantage is “not just in not waiting for an appointment, but in being able to access care from anywhere,” she told TechNewsWorld.

One possible downside is “the potential for heavy users of healthcare, such as hypochondriacs, to gum up the system,” suggested Michael Jude, program manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

Also, there is the potential for liability issues, he told TechNewsWorld. “What happens if the condition is acute and the application or physician doesn’t catch it? Who’s liable?”

How MinuteClinic Video Visits Work

MinuteClinic Video Visits are initiated through the CVS Pharmacy app, which runs on the technology platform provided by virtual care provider Teladoc, a CVS partner for the past three years.

A patient first has to complete a health questionnaire using the mobile app. The service will then provide access to a board-certified healthcare provider licensed in the patient’s state. The provider will review the completed questionnaire with the patient’s medical history and commence the video visit.

During the visit, the provider will assess the patient’s condition and determine the appropriate course of treatment following evidence-based clinical care guidelines.

The provider will submit prescriptions to the patient’s preferred pharmacy if a prescription is required as part of the treatment plan.

If it’s determined that the patient should be seen in person for follow-up care or testing, the provider will recommend that the patient visit a local healthcare provider, such as the patient’s primary care physician or a nearby MinuteClinic.

“The providers all follow MinuteClinic’s evidence-based clinical guidelines, so [patients] will receive the same high-quality, affordable, and convenient care provided in our in-store clinics,” Lanctot said.

The Long History of Telehealth Efforts

Several other companies have launched telehealth services in recent years in the United States. Anthem launched one in 2014.

HealthSpot, launched in 2012 as an mHealth solution, declared bankruptcy in 2016. It had raised US$48 million in funding and constructed about 190 kiosks, 54 of which had been deployed, including 25 at Rite-Aid pharmacies in Ohio. It also had relationships with other organizations, including the Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic, Kaiser Permanente, Rainbow Babies, and Children’s Hospital, and the Kettering Health Network.

“MinuteClinic has been testing telehealth for several years to ensure we develop and scale a service that provides an easy-to-use virtual experience combined with high-quality clinical care,” Lanctot said. “Our first pilot began in California and Texas in 2014.”

Throughout the pilot, CVS found that 95 percent of patients who opted to receive a telehealth visit were highly satisfied with the quality of care they received, the convenience of using the service, and the overall telehealth experience.

CVS began collaborating with three telehealth companies in 2015 — Teladoc, American Well, and Doctor on Demand.

“Over the years, we tested and learned what works best for our providers and our patients and developed a system that is scalable across the country,” Lanctot remarked.

Walgreens, Anthem, and RiteAid all announced telemedicine efforts last month.

“Telemedicine generally is heating up due to pressures to reduce costs and make medical treatment more accessible,” Frost’s Jude observed.

Telehealth “definitely has a place in U.S. healthcare and will probably fill a gap between self-treatment and in-person treatment,” he suggested.

Telehealth “drives down the cost of delivery on preventative care and addresses issues earlier, before they become larger, more chronic healthcare issues,” noted Constellation’s Wang, who has a master’s degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University. “I see this as a strong public health initiative.”

Richard Adhikari

Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology. Email Richard.

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