On a rainy day in Spring, Texas—a suburb 25 miles north of Houston—the brightest thing is the inside of the local CVS store.

The banner hanging above the entrance announces that it is no ordinary CVS location. It is a HealthHUB, one of three pilot locations that are the physical manifestations of what CVS promises will be the new front door of healthcare in America.

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All three pilot locations are in the suburbs of Houston, retrofitted within the familiar structure of a CVS store. The neighborhood surrounding the Spring, Texas, store consists of several gated communities with cookie-cutter houses, a few new strip malls with familiar brands, empty fields awaiting development, and many older strip malls featuring attractions like the Wet Leprechaun Tavern and Space Evolve Crystals.

The sliding glass door to the CVS store displays the company’s heart logo. On either side are the promises of HealthHUB and the pillars of its business strategy: “Welcome to HealthHUB. More health services. 1000s of new products.”

Walking through the store is like strolling through a history museum where exhibits are arranged chronologically—in this case, moving from an older business model to a newer one. At first, the store appears like any other CVS store—rows of shelves featuring razors, cosmetics, and cold remedies.

But soon something different emerges.

Animated LED signs begin to appear with   health-related sales messages. “From Baby Bump to Healthy Baby!” says a sign above a display of dozens of prenatal vitamins. “Help Improve & Manage Your Health” says a sign above a display of ketogenic diet products. Farther into the store, the healthy-product messages become more frequent: “Training & recovery: Grab what you need from pre-workout to post-gym recovery” and “Wholesome habits start with premium ingredients.”

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A few yards later, bright lights appear, and an open area emerges. The floor is light wood laminate. On the back wall, giant white letters stretching from floor to ceiling spell “HealthHUB.”

Farther in is a long desk the same light wood as the floor, with a series of shiny computer tablets. Above them are cheerful signs: “Relax, shop & discover.” “Shop at CVS.com.” “Explore top health apps!” The tablets show icons for a sleep survey, a health library, and an app called “Noom.”

Beyond the tablets is a contraption that looks like an arcade game, which customers can use to measure their vital signs. Screens on the walls flash upbeat messages (“Our Wellness Rooms have what you need”…“Great services”…“Great events”); services and prices (“screenings and monitoring $59-$129”); and wait time (at that moment, 28 minutes). Several doors line the walls; an open one reveals a room with an examination table.

A woman in a blue smock approaches, introduces herself as an LPN, and offers her assistance. I ask what happens at the HealthHUB.

“Oh, we do a lot,” she says. “We help with chronic care like diabetes and hypertension. We have a registered dietitian on site. We do sleep apnea testing. And you just missed a yoga class.” She adds, “I love it here!”

I ask about the apps, and the LPN gets a “Care Concierge” to help me. A moment later, I am listening to a polished presentation about the Noom app, which appears to be the only app offered. The concierge tells me that Noom provides food logging, meal analysis, a virtual support group, and one-on-one coaching. The Care Concierge explains that CVS is partnering with the app developer to offer the first four months free; after that, the fee is $130 per month. She deftly generates a user code for me and guides me through process to sign up and download the app. She also gives me one sell sheet describing HealthHUB’s registered dietitian and another describing free in-person nutrition consultations.

I ask about other offerings, and she gestures to the wall behind her, where, painted under a spotlight, are HealthHUB’s services:

Ongoing care:
Diabetes and other conditions
Preventive care & wellness
Dietician services
Health insurance navigation

Everyday care:
12+ immunizations
Primary acute care
Sleep assessments
School & sports physicals

Ask our care concierge for more info!
 

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She emphasizes the efforts to help individuals apply healthy lifestyle habits to manage chronic conditions, and the assistance with insurance issues.

As I wander the store and visit the other locations (one in Tomball and one in Cypress), I ask myself whether here, in these brightly lighted stores in the Houston suburbs, I am seeing the future of healthcare, its new front door.

The answer is yes and no.

The stores make a game attempt to combine high-tech engagement with a convenient in-person experience, to bring a focus on health into everyday life, to offer an engaging and modern environment in a convenient location, and to combine a business model of product sales (including medications) and service sales (including in-person care and recurring revenue from apps).

In other ways, however, these pilot sites still have the feeling of an out-of-town tryout. The HealthHUB portions feel like an awkward graft onto a traditional CVS store. The layout doesn’t feel quite natural or comfortable. In the Tomball location, for example, the area for wellness events was practically swallowed by rows of shelves.

Also, the services aren’t yet up to the high expectations the company has set. Given the hundreds of health-related apps available, CVS has to expand these offerings significantly. When it comes to wait times, the CVS HealthHUBs appear to have the same problem as their legacy provider brethren: one location was showing a 72-minute wait. And in terms of overall experience, they feel more like a Best Buy than an Apple store. Finally, the suburban locations beg the question whether CVS will aggressively move the HealthHUB model into urban and rural areas.

However, it would be a mistake to dismiss CVS at this stage. These stores have only been open for a week. One location had blueprints still sitting on a chair; another had a ladder under the outside banner. The business of healthcare is outrageously complex, and creating a new approach to that business may be even more so.

CVS has the right ingredients to create a new approach to healthcare delivery.

It has a broad geographic footprint. It is trying to bring health into everyday life, thereby creating everyday interactions. It is blending online and in-person engagement. It is establishing a contemporary consumer experience. And it is diversifying its revenue sources among products and services, and attempting to shape them into a complementary ecosystem. And today HealthHUB got $130 in monthly recurring revenue from me, a guy who wandered in off the street.

These are early days for CVS’s efforts to reinvent healthcare’s front door. The company has the right ingredients; it will take time to perfect the recipe. Legacy healthcare organizations need to seize this moment and focus on how they can use these same ingredients to develop their own recipe for healthcare’s future.

 

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