Guest Editorial

Collaboration With CVS Amplifies Health is Primary's Message

November 13, 2015 04:23 pm Glen Stream, M.D., M.B.I.

The Health is Primary campaign visited five U.S. cities this year, sharing primary care success stories -- and demonstrating the value of primary care -- with stakeholders in Seattle; Raleigh, N.C.; Chicago; Denver and Detroit.

[Glen Stream, M.D.]

Glen Stream, M.D., M.B.I.

Soon, Health is Primary will be reaching CVS Health customers( around the country with messages about the importance of primary care. As part of a collaboration announced Nov. 13,( CVS will work with us to educate consumers about how different parts of the health care system -- primary care, pharmacy, retail clinics, acute and post-acute care, diagnostic services, public health and community and social services -- all play distinct roles in keeping patients healthy.

Family physicians and retail clinics have had some tense moments in recent years with nurse practitioners pushing for increased scope of practice and the AAFP pushing back with concerns about fragmentation of care and depth of training. Some misguided people think retail clinics potentially could replace primary care practices.

CVS, however, is different. The retail giant views its role in the medical neighborhood similarly to what the AAFP has outlined in its set of ideal characteristics for retail clinics. Roughly half of the patients who come to the company's MinuteClinics don't have a primary care physician. But CVS maintains a list of primary care practices that are accepting new patients and works with those patients to help them find a medical home in their communities. Thus, the MinuteClinic does not become a patient's usual source of care, but instead fills a more appropriate role as an alternative source of care when that patient's primary care physician is not available.

For patients who do have a primary care physician but seek care at MinuteClinic, the company communicates with those patients' medical homes when possible (think interoperability) and provides information about patients' visits.

In some markets, CVS is going beyond that. For example, the company has been partnering with Cleveland Clinic in Ohio for six years. Under that agreement, MinuteClinic and Cleveland Clinic have integrated via their electronic health records. If a patient visits the retail clinic, continuity of care isn't disrupted because the primary care practice receives all information related to that visit, including prescriptions, treatments, etc.

This approach has worked with big health groups. Surely, others could follow.

Whether you believe retail clinics are good, bad or neutral, the reality is that they are here to stay, and we must choose how we engage with them. By partnering with CVS, the Health is Primary campaign has the potential to reach 7,800 retail stores and 5 million daily customers to explain the importance of comprehensive primary care and direct patients to a medical home.

Patients need a regular source of care and they need to know that, wherever they access care, they can be assured of a system that is coordinated and working together to keep them healthy. Across the country, CVS is already working with primary care to strengthen the medical neighborhood. We want to elevate this model of collaboration to ensure that all patients understand and have access to continuous, coordinated care.

In the end, Health is Primary and CVS want the same thing for patients, which is to promote prevention, wellness and better health.

To learn more about this effort, go to

Glen Stream, M.D., M.B.I., is president and board chair of Family Medicine for America's Health.