Digital health round-up: CVS starts to deliver prescriptions, pre-empting Amazon move

US chain CVS Pharmacy is rolling out delivery for prescriptions and some over-the-counter medicines across the US, pre-empting a similar move expected from Amazon.

Amazon is expected to make a serious bid to enter the prescription medicines market in the near future, and has already launched a line of over-the-counter medicines manufactured exclusively for it by Dublin-based Perrigo.

In a move interpreted as an attempt to stay ahead of Amazon, CNBC reported that CVS is expanding a same-day delivery service already piloted in New York City last year to cities such as Boston, Miami, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

Customers will be able to receive their orders either one or two days after placing them, and some in urban markets will be able to receive orders the same day.

CVS Pharmacy’s president Kevin Hourican, said the service will be initially rolled out to around 9,800 stores.

For orders filled and delivered and in one or two days, CVS will charge $4.99, while same-day delivery will cost $8.99.

Gawande heads up Amazon’s healthcare revolution

Meanwhile Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan Chasehave hired respected surgeon and writer Atul Gawande to head their joint venture that aims to revolutionise the US healthcare system.

The three companies made waves in January when they laid plans to cut costs in the US healthcare system, which they argue is too expensive and is damaging economic progress.

Amazon has revolutionised retail with its digital technology, and there is speculation that it may begin to disrupt the healthcare market too after the latest move.

Gawande practices general and endocrine surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, and at Harvard Medical School.

He is also executive director of Ariadne Labs, a joint centre for health systems innovation, and chairman of Lifebox, a non-profit organisation dedicated to making surgery safer globally.

Details are sketchy about how the new non-profit company will develop its new, leaner healthcare model and the choice to hire Atul Gawande as CEO is the first indication of the direction of travel.

Commentators think that Amazon may attempt to cut out the “middle man” in the US drug prescription and reimbursement system.

In the US, pharmacy benefit managers have taken on the role of running formularies for insurance companies, and removing this link in the chain and doing deals with wholesalers and manufacturers is one way the company could reduce costs.

When the joint venture was first announced shares fell in pharmacy benefit managers such as CVS Health Corp and Express Scripts because of concerns, given the disruptive influence that Amazon has had in other industries such as retail.

Reuters reported that Leerink Partners analyst Ana Gupte said that the appointment suggests that the coalition is not just looking at the “drug value chain” in isolation, but at the overall healthcare system across payers and providers.

This tallies with the views expressed in Gawande’s writing in the New Yorker magazine – in this article he explores the American attitude towards health, and how the benefits of a healthcare system can be more widely shared in society.

Gawande speaks of the “generations-old error of yoking health care to jobs” – suggesting that the kind of reform he would like to see extends far beyond tinkering with the drug prescription system in the US.

Trinity’s digital health incubator

Digital health start-ups from Ireland and Europe have joined a new incubator programme at Trinity College Dublin.

The EIT Health Validator aims to identify new technologies promoting healthy living, support active ageing and improve health systems.

According to the website Irish Tech News the initiative is the first of its kind in the Republic of Ireland.

Hosted by the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Hub at Trinity in collaboration with the European Institute for Innovation and Technology, the incubator is open to health tech start-ups founded by professionals and researchers working in the medical and tech sector across Europe.

The Incubutor will enable early stage digital health businesses to validate their ideas and identify suitable markets for their products.

The 10 start-ups already signed include companies from Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Finland, Poland and Latvia.

For the next six weeks they will validate their products before beginning a two-week tour of four health tech hubs across Europe.