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Cigna-Express Scripts bets on digital care as the future of health

Express Scripts is bullish on virtual care, chief innovation officer Glen Stettin said on Wednesday, as the company pushes deeper into leveraging technology as a source of primary care.

It’s been a year since the merger of health insurer Cigna (CI) and pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts was finalized. The two entities are bullish about the role of digital health in 2020, and have launched a digital health formulary, and partnerships to boost virtual care and patient compliance.

Along those lines, Stettin announced at CES, the annual technology summit in Las Vegas, that the company was building a “telehealth capability that gets at the issue of wellness and primary care.”

Traditionally, telehealth — i.e., the use of digital and electronic communications for medical diagnoses and treatment — has been seen as a way to avoid costly emergency room or urgent care visits. Recently, companies have been shifting focus to help alleviate the increased burden in the primary care space.

FILE - In this July 25, 2017, file photo, Express Scripts prescription medication bottles are arranged for a photo in Surfside, Fla. Health insurer Cigna will spend about $52 billion to acquire the pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts, announced Thursday, March 8, 2018, the latest in a string of proposed buyouts and tie-ups in a rapidly shifting landscape for the health services industry. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

The expansion of Cigna-ESI’s relationship with MDLive, the telehealth platform, into primary care and virtual wellness screenings signals the start of a strategic change for the company.

In a joint statement following the announcement of the expanded services, which will begin in the second quarter of 2020, both MDLive and Cigna the partnership, “is designed to enable proactive and ongoing health management, reducing costs for health plans and health systems while improving the consumer experience and outcomes.”

Express Scripts’ digital formulary debuted this month, something that’s of particular interest to many in the digital health space. It gives startups and tech giants a platform to be distributed to a much larger patient base.

Currently, these startups either have pilot or contractual agreements with insurers or employers.

“There [are] more than 300,000 digital solutions out there. Most of them are untested, many of them are unvetted, and many of them will not work,” Stettin said.

While a formulary can help set a standard, even in its experimental phase. Companies on the program could be removed if they don’t work, or meet established standards.

Stettin also described the increased use of artificial intelligence and data analytics which give patients and doctors the information they need to better manage their health. One solution is the internally-built HealthConnect360 platform.

“We are continuing to drive partnerships to create new capabilities...and may (pursue) other acquisitions as well,” Cigna CIO Mark Boxer told Yahoo Finance following the CES panel.

Post-merger, Cigna-Express has the ability to become a testbed for innovation, Boxer said. Its resources include a leading innovation lab in Austin, and an innovation fund that is supported through investments that will pay dividends. He’s also bullish on the potential of digital health in 2020.

“Technology is going to change the landscape for the better,” he said.

Anjalee Khemlani is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @AnjKhem

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