Q&A with CVS Health’s chief digital officer, Brian Tilzer

Boston -- Brian Tilzer, senior VP and chief digital officer of CVS Health, sat down with Chain Store Age at the opening of the CVS Digital Innovation Lab in Boston to discuss the strategy behind the lab and CVS’ larger goals for transforming health care through digital technology.

How does the Digital Innovation Lab fit in with CVS Health’s larger mission of leveraging digital technology to improve healthcare?
Our vision is to leverage digital technology to do good things that were previously impossible. A major challenge is that digital technologies and channels are evolving so rapidly. You have to understand how the technology is changing and how the customer will respond when they use a new digital solution.

The Digital Innovation Lab enables us to experiment with what’s unknown and bring it to what’s known, and perform iterative testing. Also, innovation is happening all over the place and is not just limited to what CVS Health is developing ourselves. The lab lets us work with other technology firms, both big companies and start-ups, and effectively put ideas through the experimentation model.

Since you joined the company in 2013, CVS has tripled its investment in digital technology. How does the Digital Innovation Lab build on this investment?
We tripled our digital technology investment and are now doubling it again. A lot of the program is focused on mobile. We are all carrying these super-powerful devices all the time. How do you leverage that for a better patient experience?

We now have top-rated retail, specialty and pharmacy benefit management apps. We have introduced and expanded text messaging so 20 million people are now picking up and refilling prescriptions with text. We brought texting into the Minute Clinic so people can register by smartphone when they arrive at the store, then shop and get a text when they are next in line.

That’s why we rolled out the latest mobile technology –beacons – in our stores. When you walk into the store with our app on your mobile device the beacons will recognize you and provide information that is pertinent to your visit.

Also it’s important to note that we are not trying to market with mobile, but solve pain points and provide services and utility. Twenty million people would not have given us their mobile numbers if we just sent promotions.

An increasing number of large retailers are opening proprietary innovation labs. Is this being driven by broader industry trends?
There are some commonalities. We’re trying to rapidly experiment and go from unknown to known in an 8,000-store chain. Larger retailers need operational disciplines to build things at a certain scale and figure out if innovations work.

Specifically in healthcare, investment in digital technology has taken off. There was a total of $4 billion invested in digital healthcare last year. The lab will help us engage with start-ups who do certain things especially well.

Can you provide an update on any of your work with start-ups?
We’re working with start-ups on a number of customer-facing solutions. For example, we’re working with a start-up called Livongo, which has a device to take the blood glucose readings of diabetes patients and automatically upload them so they can get a call from a clinician if anything is unusual.

We’re also working with a start-up called Mango Health, which targets medical adherence with “gaming tools” that encourage people to take prescriptions by providing incentives when they acknowledge taking a prescription. The app forces patients to think about their medications.

How does personalization fit into your lab efforts?
Personalization is the underlying theme to everything we do. Mobile is incredibly personal – you carry it all the time. The future of our ExtraCare rewards program hinges on personalization delivered by mobile tools. Mobile is the perfect way for customers to engage with ExtraCare. We’re leveraging mobile and other digital tools to make the experience better.

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