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CVS’ Merlo outlines Aetna integration efforts

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SAN FRANCISCO — While speaking at the 37th Annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference at the Westin St. Francis Hotel here, CVS Health chief executive officer Larry Merlo discussed efforts under way to integrate Aetna into its business.

Those efforts include CVS opening the first of a series of concept stores next month in the Houston market, which Merlo said will serve as a testing ground for a consumer-centric retail engagement model able to target Aetna’s membership and focus on managing chronic illnesses, extending primary care and reducing avoidable hospital ­admissions.

The concept stores are part of a portfolio of products aimed at changing the health care experience by harnessing the reach of CVS among American consumers with Aetna’s data and background as one of the leading payers in the U.S.

The portfolio also capitalizes on the value of MinuteClinics to include more services such as health care screenings and in-store blood testing and includes such ventures as a pilot program that allows Aetna care managers to help schedule follow-up visits in MinuteClinics within 14 days of a patient’s discharge from the hospital if they are unable to see their primary care ­provider. CVS also plans to roll out what Merlo called “care concierge” ­services.

“We already engage with one in three Americans. We have become part of their normal everyday routines,” Merlo said. “This is critically important, because, as we think about this, we don’t have to build new routines. We simply have to build our programs and services into the existing routines that already exist.”

Merlo also elaborated on his thoughts regarding virtual care and how it can provide access to CVS programs where brick-and-mortar retail clinics aren’t practical. He pointed to dermatology as specialty where CVS would be able to expand service offerings through ­telemedicine.

Merlo added that he expects the integration with Aetna will begin resulting in financial benefits this quarter.