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Bringing Out the Best: Digital Health and COVID-19

ByFirdaus Bhathena|August 26, 2020

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, our team will be interviewing experts from across the ecosystem to bring the HLTH community timely facts and updates.

As COVID-19 continues to transform the health care needs of millions of people – from routine to critical care, from in-person to virtual settings – digital health is stepping up to meet the needs of a world in crisis. Digital is helping us improve care access, meet changing patient needs, and better contend with every stage of the pandemic. 

My wife is a physician, and over the past few months I’ve been in awe of the tireless dedication she and her colleagues show day in, day out on the frontlines. This crisis has brought out the best in them – and I see that in our teams at CVS Health too. Our presence in communities across the country has been extremely powerful as we work to help people get the care and support they need. Incredible collaboration, focused teamwork and no-nonsense attitudes have enabled us to make rapid progress in a short period of time. 

As I shared on a recent HLTH webinar, it’s never been more critical to meet patients where they are on their health care journey. Several areas of service stand out as examples of just how dynamically we’ve evolved, and what to look for as digital programs continue to innovate throughout the pandemic and beyond. 

Expanding critical, digital access to care and medication

COVID-19 didn’t make other health care needs go away, but it did create a general reluctance to seek care. According to our recent Time for Care study, nearly 60% of Americans have cancelled or delayed a health care appointment due to concerns about exposure to COVID-19 since the pandemic began. 

To help individuals safely receive treatment for minor, non-COVID-19 illnesses and injuries without having to visit doctors’ offices and hospitals, we offer virtual health care services through our MinuteClinic® locations 24 hours a day, seven days a week, right from a mobile device or computer. And people are taking advantage – in Q2 2020, our total MinuteClinic virtual care visits were up over 750% compared to Q2 2019.

Virtual care and digital access are especially important for more vulnerable populations who rely on regular medication. Six out of every 10 adults in the U.S. suffer from a chronic condition, with many having two or more. CVS Health retail prescription home delivery volume was up more than 500% in Q2 2020 vs. Q1 2020, allowing people to receive critical medicine while minimizing interactions outside their home. Digital refills of specialty medications increased, and we also saw a 40% increase in provider adoption of our Specialty Expedite offering, which helps patients start on life sustaining medications within the most critical first 30 days. New experiences like “Spoken Rx” read prescription details out loud by scanning an RFID tag affixed to prescription bottles, a major accessibility improvement for our visually impaired patients.  

COVID-19 testing on the frontlines

Testing has been one of CVS Health’s major frontline responses to the crisis. The staggering consumer demand for COVID-19 testing created immediate logistical challenges for those wanting to minimize possible virus exposure and help control community virus spread. 

In April we launched a digital screener, scheduler and registration system that allows patients to arrange their COVID-19 test at a designated date, time and location. The testing began with a few large scale sites, then progressed to drive-thru testing outside select CVS Pharmacy locations. Through the end of July, CVS Health administered more than 2 million COVID-19 tests, the majority of which were scheduled digitally. More than half of our 1,800+ testing sites are located in counties that serve moderate to high needs communities, as measured by the CDC Social Vulnerability Index. We’ve also launched Return ReadySM, which uses our digital platform, to help businesses bring employees back to work safely with flexible testing options.

Bottom line: Innovation can’t wait

COVID-19 has made innovation and the ability to scale -- quickly -- more important than ever before. Continuing to grow our digital foundation and expand our services to meet the changing needs and preferences remains our priority. I’m proud to work with the incredible team of innovators and changemakers across our company and beyond who are focused on doing whatever they can to improve the health and safety of our country.

About Firdaus Bhathena:

Firdaus Bhathena is the Chief Digital Officer of CVS Health. In the role, he leads the creation and implementation of CVS Health’s digital strategy, which is focused on overcoming obstacles to health care engagement through personalization, simplicity, and tech-driven partnerships.

Firdaus has extensive experience in technology entrepreneurship and delivering world-class enterprise and consumer software products at scale. Prior to CVS Health, he spent twenty years in the world of venture-backed startups. He co-founded WebLine Communications after winning the MIT $50K Business Plan Competition. WebLine was acquired by Cisco Systems, and he later founded Relicore, which was acquired by Symantec. He holds several patents in software and distributed systems, and is a frequent speaker at industry events. He holds BS and MS degrees in computer science and electrical engineering from MIT, where he was a Tau Beta Pi National Engineering Honor Society Graduate Fellow.