CVS Health Exec on Rising to the Digital Demands of COVID-19

July 1, 2020

In this episode of One Quick Thing, Firdaus Bhathena discussed how his team at Rhode Island-based CVS Health has responded to increased demand for digital offerings and COVID-19 testing. Bhathena is the Chief Digital Officer of the retail and healthcare company. He was formerly the Chief Digital Officer of Aetna, prior to the acquisition of Aetna by CVS Health. 

Increased Demand for Digital Offerings 

Amidst the lock downs and stay-at-home advisories, Bhathena says that his team has seen exponential demand for CVS’s digital offerings. One example is pharmacy delivery, a service where customers can order online and have products shipped to their homes. According to Bhathena, since the start of the pandemic the use of pharmacy delivery has increased by almost 2,000 percent. 

“Digital health is going to see more change, and more acceleration and more disruption in…the next five years than it has in the last 50,” Bhathena says. “COVID compressed that timeframe down to three months.” 

Telehealth, virtual care, and testing efforts for coronavirus have also become major focuses for the company. According to the company’s website, 1,400 CVS pharmacies offer tests for COVID-19. As offices create reopening plans, Bhathena says, the interest in testing has been further piqued.

“We have teams expanding capacity rapidly and working around the clock to meet with all of the demand that is coming our way,” Bhathena says. 

Don’t Try to ‘Boil the Ocean’

During the conversation, Bhathena was asked about a failed project that taught him something important.

Bhathena pointed to a digital solution his team built that attempted to combine multiple aspects of holistic wellbeing — from mental health, to physical health, to financial health. “We moved too quickly, too fast,” Bhathena says of the project. “We did not do our diligence and achieve product market fit before we decided to try to scale it. And that affects big companies as much as it affects your startup.”

He also cautioned participants about taking on projects that have too wide of a scope. Tackling too many challenges in one project, Bhathena says, is attempting to “boil the ocean” at a time when quick outcomes are expected in many organizations. 

Scaling Startup Partnerships 

When pursuing partnerships with startups, Bhathena says the team at CVS looks for two key traits: how closely aligned the startup is with internal strategy, and the scalability of their solution. According to Bhathena, the team will reach out to startups that are building unique solutions that would be too time-consuming to create in-house. These partners should also be prepared to scale quickly. 

“We launched this [membership rewards program] called CarePass and got into the millions of users [in a couple months,]” Bhathena says. “[That’s] very potent, right? And it can very quickly crush you.”

Looking Past Silos 

Bhathena says that in his opinion, “the really big wins and the real disruption in health care…will come from being able to reach across the businesses we support.”  

As an example, Bhathena says that many people concurrently experience multiple chronic conditions. They may require behavioral, physical, and mental health services. Bhathena says his team makes the most progress when they think about serving the customer’s full range of needs.