CVS Caremark Corp. has officially launched Specialty Connect, a prescription services program that enables patients to access specialty medications and support at CVS/pharmacy stores.

CVS Caremark, Specialty Connect, specialty medications, specialty drugs, CVS/pharmacy, chronic diseases, Alan Lotvin, specialty pharmacy, medication adherence, Larry Merlo, Helena Foulkes

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CVS launches specialty drugs program

May 28th, 2014

WOONSOCKET, R.I. – CVS Caremark Corp. has officially launched Specialty Connect, a prescription services program that enables patients to access specialty medications and support at CVS/pharmacy stores.

CVS said Wednesday that Specialty Connect, which has been field-tested for over a year, is designed to make it easier for patients with chronic diseases and conditions — such as hepatitis C, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer — to get started on therapy and stay on it, improving their health outcomes.

Under the program, patients can bring their specialty prescriptions to any of the 7,600-plus CVS/pharmacy stores, as a complement to existing specialty pharmacy processes. After initiating their prescriptions, patients receive insurance guidance and clinical support by phone from specialty pharmacy experts trained in each therapeutic area, who are available 24/7. To get their specialty drugs, patients can choose in-store pickup or have their medications delivered via mail.

"Specialty Connect helps specialty patients with these critical therapies by helping to eliminate common challenges they had often faced and by offering them flexibility and choice," Alan Lotvin, executive vice president of specialty pharmacy for CVS Caremark, said in a statement. "The program makes it easier and more convenient for patients to submit and receive their specialty prescriptions either through CVS/pharmacy or by mail. What's more, it increases medication adherence, improves outcomes and lowers overall health care costs for specialty patients and payers."

A pilot of Specialty Connect in the Philadelphia area showed specialty patients' predilection for in-store pickup of their medications. More than half of patients in the test market — many of whom were current mail-service pharmacy customers — opted to get their specialty drugs at a CVS/pharmacy location.

CVS noted that the pilot also showed increased medication adherence, with the percentage of patients who were optimally adherent to their medicines climbing to 79% from 66% as a result of the program. In addition, the company said, the program improved the patient experience and reduced traditional barriers to getting started on medication, with 97% of patients successfully initiating therapy after their first interaction at a CVS/pharmacy.

"We have found a high degree of satisfaction. Patients like being able to go to their local CVS as opposed to doing everything by phone or on the Internet. It speaks to the accessibility goal," CVS Caremark president and chief executive officer Larry Merlo said about Specialty Connect in an interview late last year. "And physicians have embraced the fact that we've been able to coordinate care so that these patients can start taking their medications more quickly. We've demystified some of the prior authorization and benefit verification that is required behind the scenes."

With demand for specialty drugs booming, delivery and support services for these medications will be key for pharmacy providers. Specialty medications now account for almost 22.5% of the total drug spend among CVS' clients and are projected to reach $235 billion by 2018.

Besides requiring special handling, storage and administration, specialty medicines have historically presented patients with challenges in submitting the prescription, accessing centralized expert clinical and benefits support, and navigating the logistics involved in receiving the drug, according to CVS. For example, as many as one quarter of patients who tried to fill a specialty prescription at a traditional retail pharmacy faced barriers, which often led to delayed or abandoned treatment and, in turn, poorer health outcomes.

"Specialty medications are both really expensive and really complicated. When people are newly diagnosed with a serious condition, they often don't know how their plan design works and where they will be able to fill these medicines. What we want to do is take that question and doubt off the table for the consumer and for the doctor, and ultimately get her on the right medication as quickly and easily as we can," CVS/pharmacy president Helena Foulkes said in an interview in April.

"Our pharmacists are very engaged in Specialty Connect because they feel proud about the service that they are delivering for consumers and for physicians," Foulkes added. "The program alleviates a pain point that up to now has been very real for them."