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CVS Health CEO Larry Merlo discusses leadership in healthcare innovation


With the recent unveiling of a new corporate name and a network of retail pharmacies that are now officially tobacco-free, CVS Health continues to forge ahead on its mission to help shape the future of health care. To further communicate its purpose to both consumers and press and to discuss how the company’s unique, integrated model is making a difference in healthcare, Larry Merlo, president and CEO of CVS Health, spoke on Friday before the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

“At CVS Health, [our purpose] is simply to work hard to help people on their path to better health and all across the organization it serves as our guidepost as we think about business decisions and focus on healthcare innovation,” Merlo said during the luncheon, which was also a webcast.

Merlo began his remarks with a brief look at the changes impacting the currently stressed healthcare environment and the factors driving healthcare spending, such as the growing prevalence of chronic disease and medication non-adherence.

“Does it surprise you to know that more than half of all Americans today suffer from one or more chronic diseases? And this is expected to continue to rise for the next 20 years. Chronic disease today accounts for nearly 3-out-of-every-4 dollars being spent on health care. At the same time, the number of people who don’t take prescriptions as described we are calling it an ‘epidemic,’” Merlo said.

Now throw into the mix healthcare reform and a shift toward outcomes-based payment models, the retailization of health care as consumers take a more active role in their healthcare decisions, and a greater transition to a more digital society. The bottom line: Health care is evolving.

“I’m convinced that one very important avenue to improve quality, cost and access is rooted in pharmacy care, and it’s reflected in many of the things that we are doing at CVS Health to drive solutions,” Merlo told attendees. “… Pharmacy is extending the frontlines of health care to deliver better outcomes more affordably to the people that we serve, and CVS Health is driving many innovative approaches to reinventing pharmacy.”

To illustrate some of the ways in which CVS Health is reinventing pharmacy, Merlo highlighted the company’s Pharmacy Advisor program and Specialty Connect programs. Merlo also discussed the importance of MinuteClinic and its ability to improve access to care as the nation faces a growing physician shortage and an influx of newly insured Americans under health reform.

“Today, MinuteClinic provides convenient, affordable, high quality care for both acute needs as well as chronic and wellness needs whether it is vaccinations, screenings, weight-loss programs, chronic disease monitoring,” said Merlo, who noted that it plans to operate 1,500 clinics by 2017.

Merlo, however, stressed that MinuteClinic locations are designed to be complementary and collaborative with primary care medical homes — not replace the care provided by primary care physicians.

When asked about the role of telemedicine within MinuteClinics, Merlo said, “We are experimenting with telemedicine. We actually have 28 sites in Southern California and Texas. … The patient feedback is off the chart positive.”

Before wrapping up his presentation, Merlo discussed the company’s decision to stop selling cigarettes.

“As a unified management team, along with our board of directors, we made the decision to quit tobacco for good. We announced that decision back in February and six months later we are officially tobacco free one month ahead of schedule, and we are proud to say that we are the first national pharmacy chain in the country to take this action to support the well-being of our patients and our customers,” said Merlo, as attendees showed their support through a round of applause.

Added Merlo, “To sum it up, we don’t see exiting the sale of tobacco as an important decision for just us. We see it as an important decision for public health.”

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