Nov 24, 2021 - Health

Doctors are becoming a hot commodity

Illustration of a stethoscope with a high price tag

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Pharmacies and insurers are increasingly competing to directly hire doctors and nurse practitioners as they move deeper into primary health care delivery.

Driving the news: The latest example is CVS Health's latest plan to reduce its retail locations as it pours more resources into its digital health delivery and health hub locations.

Why it matters: Primary care is the starting point for all other points of health care. Companies that own more of those interactions are offering convenience to consumers, while also standing to make more money.

The big picture: CVS said earlier this month that it needs to hire doctors to fulfill its vision of becoming a one-stop shop for health care services.

  • Walgreens Boots Alliance also said recently it's investing billions into new clinics.
  • Two major health insurers, UnitedHealth Group and Humana, have increasingly purchased physician offices over the past few years.
  • And even genetic testing firm 23andMe is getting into the mix with its acquisition of Lemonaid Health, a virtual primary care company. 

The state of play: A vast majority of family medicine physicians still work in practices that are owned by a hospital or themselves.

  • But the pandemic prompted people to use non-traditional forms of care, including retail clinics and virtual services, which has spurred companies like CVS and Walgreens to have doctors in those settings.

What they're saying: COVID-19 vaccines and tests had a "halo effect" on retail sales at Walgreens, CEO Roz Brewer told CNBC.

  • "Primary care is a small component of overall medical costs ... but it wields significant influence on the total medical cost picture," CVS CEO Karen Lynch said on the company's last earnings call.
  • Lynch also added the company, which owns health insurer Aetna, is steering Aetna members toward CVS' clinics.

The bottom line: The gold rush for doctors and advanced clinicians is about meeting patients where they are in an attempt to capture more consumer health care and retail dollars.

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