Mail-order prescriptions are nothing new, but pharmacists have turned to a number of other tools to help patients access their prescriptions during the Covid-19 pandemic.  The head of CVS Health’s specialty pharmacy strategy, Prem Shah, said he expects to see more patients continue receive healthcare at home after the pandemic ends.

Though CVS Health had been building up its arsenal of digital tools before the Covid-19 pandemic, stay-at-home orders forced the pharmacy giant to lean more on them. The company has seen a surge in the use of its support services since the beginning of March.

“We started our journey in the digital space in specialty 5 or 6 years ago,” said Shah, who is executive vice president of specialty and product innovation for CVS Health. “The pandemic has allowed us to really test our capabilities virtually, across the board for the PBM. We quickly realized virtual healthcare and support services were going to be critical with social distancing rules in place.”

For example, the company began offering secure text messaging with a nurse or a pharmacist. CVS Health saw a 30% increase in encounter volume, with some patients asking for help with managing their specialty medication, while others needed help finding supplies beyond the medication itself.

CVS Health also saw an uptick in calls to Accordant nurses, which are trained to help patients with rare conditions. More than a third of the calls were for questions about Covid-19.

Shah said CVS Health had also been working with health plans to help them identify which members face the highest risk from Covid-19, so they could reach out to them and make sure they understood everything that is available to them under their plan.

Looking to the future after the Covid-19 pandemic, Shah expects to see a bigger shakeup in traditional care settings.

“If you were to ask me even three months ago, we would say we have many fragmented sites in which we provide these services,” he said. “One of the things I think you’ll see stick in healthcare… how people think about their healthcare workforce is going to be a little more nimble. You’re not requiring someone to go into a specific setting.”

For example, hospitals have typically been a hub for cancer care. But with the pandemic, CVS Health helped patients that were receiving infusions in a hospital setting transition to in-home care.

“Over time, I think you’ll see care move to patients’ homes,” Shah said.

Telehealth has been another big part of the push to care for patients remotely. But there’s still plenty of room to build on these services.

“The real question with telehealth and these other things has to be how do we improve the quality of care?” Shah said. “The industry needs to push hard, but I do think there’s a better care model.”

Photo credit: Irina_Strelnikova, Getty Images



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