Strategic Partnering

I’ll Take a Tube of Toothpaste and a Tetanus Shot: Five Factors Reshaping Retail Healthcare Delivery

The recent approval of CVS Health’s merger with Aetna is being heralded as nothing less than potentially “transformational” to the health care system. Innovative ideas to help streamline care and encourage cost effectiveness are not new as illustrated by the undefined collaboration between Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan, nevertheless here is the joining of the consumers, delivery and payer stakeholders. Observers have remarked on the impact that this union may have on the role of the MinuteClinic, i.e., the retail clinics owned and managed by CVS Health. Will there be incentives for Aetna members subscribers to favor these clinics over traditional practices? If so, will their service offerings need to further expand?

A relatively recent phenomenon (the first clinic was established in 2000), their use has been driven by convenience. Where else can you get a flu shot while picking up laundry detergent and cotton swabs or quickly get that sinusitis checked out without an appointment? They have progressed significantly since their inception. For example, they were originally fee-for-service, but the majority of clinics now have negotiated contracts with major insurers.

While this sets up retail clinics as a go-to for wellness services and to manage simple acute illnesses, can they take it to the next level that being chronic disease management?

These contemplations have elicited the realization that retail clinics in general have not been on industry’s radar screen. To help get us up to speed and fully realize their potential in therapy development and commercialization, we provide five facts about retail clinics.

  1. Retail clinics are staffed by non-physicians

The simple premise behind retail clinics management is filling the need for a convenient way to get non-critical acute illnesses such as influenza and sinusitis quickly, along with wellness measure like those pesky booster shots that we put off until the last minute – no appointment necessary. According to the National Urgent Care Center Accreditation (NUCCA), retail clinics are a level IV – the lowest level of care. In essence, requirements include that providers must be certified in basic life support, provide basic on-site lab, offer no radiology or suturing and must post service limitations. Most noteworthy is how they are staffed. In accordance with level IV, retail clinics are staffed mainly by mid-level practitioners with the vast majority being nurse practitioners, with remote medical supervision by a licensed physician. This makes sense as it is a less expensive option and an on-site physician would essentially be overkill.

  1. Over 90% of retail clinics are managed by only five operators

The U.S. has approximately 2000 retail clinics. Five operators mainly represented by retail pharmacies followed by a supermarket and a big box store, run 92% of them. The remainder to a lesser extent, are run by physicians groups and delivery systems.

 Location and Market Share of Retail Clinics by Chain, 2017

 Clinic Location Clinic Operator Market Share
CVS Health (retail pharmacy) MinuteClinic 55%
Walgreens Walgreens Healthcare Clinic; Advocate 18%
Kroger The Little Clinic 11%
Walmart Care Clinic; Clinic at Walmart 4%
Rite Aid RediClinic 3%
HEB RediClinic 2%
All others 8%

Adapted from Drug Channels.

According to the Center for Financial Research & Analysis, CVS Health is the largest operator of retail health care clinics in the U.S. As of December 2017, CVS Health operated over 1100 retail clinics in 33 states under the MinuteClinic name including 15 newly opened ones. Furthermore in 2015 CVS Health acquired Target’s pharmacy business, consisting of 1,660 locations and 80 in-store health clinics, for approximately $1.9 billion. The 79 clinics purchased were re-branded as MinuteClinic. CVS Health is working on opening 20 new clinics within Target stores by the end of 2018. Additionally, CVS Health and Target plan to develop five to 10 small-format stores over a two-year period following the close of the transaction.

  1. Evolution from simple acute care and vaccines to chronic conditions is already taking place

There is already a movement by the retail clinic industry into the more complicated realm of chronic diseases. This wider scope of practice at certain retail clinics is facilitated through affiliation with larger health care systems which provide specialized physician oversight. Many now care for and manage patients with chronic conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, and asthma. For almost a decade, CVS Health has been affiliating with the Cleveland Clinic and Target (now CVS Health MinuteClinics) has recently struck up an agreement with Kaiser Permanente. Though these are currently regional partnerships, by way of the integration of the clinics into their system and thus physician engagement, they have allowed for improved access to and coordination of care. This is germane to monitoring to manage chronic conditions while maintaining links to other clinical systems.

  1. Physicians groups may not necessarily be fans of retail clinics expanding beyond uncomplicated care and vaccines

While medical groups certainly see a role for retail clinics as they were originally intended, there is resistance against their expansion into areas such as chronic care. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) officially opposes the expansion of services offered by retail clinics, specifically those related to chronic disease management, as they fear fragmentation of care. They cite that the protocol-based decision and diagnostic models used in most retail clinics (they point out that they are non-physician led), may result in a missed opportunity to address more complex patient needs.

This view is bolstered in a 2017 article from the American Journal of Managed Care which cites that while there is strong user satisfaction demonstrated by a relatively high rate of return visits, people who use retail clinics are less likely to return to their primary physicians for subsequent visits. This raises continuity of care concerns.

There should be sensitivity toward the fact that retail clinics as viable competitors to physician practices, if services are greatly expanded to chronic disease monitoring and beyond.

  1. Adults on either end of age spectrum will likely fuel growth

The retail clinic trend lends itself to convenience with expanded care options created through strategic collaborations. This is expected to stimulate interest in retail clinics by adults on both ends of the age spectrum – millennials and seniors. In fact, a recent article in Forbes notes that millennials are largely ditching their primary physicians and opting for real-time care provided on their schedules.

On the other end of the spectrum, retail clinics are taking steps to further focus their services toward seniors. Most notably, Walgreens “Take Care” clinics and Humana is piloting a program in Kansas City markets, targeted to Humana’s Medicare Advantage patients. Jointly, the two companies will offer geriatrics-focused acute and chronic care, health navigation services, and health education. Notably, retail clinics are already offering the free Medicare wellness visits.

The CVS Health-Aetna merger is being regarded as transformational for the health care industry as the clinic and payer are now one. This is as disruptive as it gets. CVS Health will now have the ability to convert more of its brick-and-mortar locations into front-line clinics for basic medical services and monitoring of chronic conditions. CVS Health has said that by deepening its knowledge of and relationships with patients, CVS says that the combination could help Americans stick with medication regimens and stay out of the hospital. This indeed makes sense as minute clinics are situated where people shop on a daily basis and you can’t beat their proximity to pharmacists. This has the potential to increase a patient’s likelihood to actually fill their prescription and be more informed about it.

This may set the tone for other comparable non-traditional marriages. We are already seeing limited partnerships between Target’s MinuteClinics and Kaiser and Walgreens and Humana. If the model works, it is only going to grow.  While industry has been doing a good job of connecting with patients, nurse practitioners and pharmacists, there is a huge opportunity to better engage them within the ecosystem of the retail clinic.

Snowfish has pioneered a unique approach of mapping the disease state ecosystem including non-traditional competitors and key stakeholders designed to meet the needs of the particular product. To learn more, please feel free to contact us at

Melissa Hammond, GNP is Managing Director at Snowfish a strategic consulting firm that has almost two decades working exclusively with the pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical device industries. Please go to or call +703-759-6100 to learn more about our services.

Posted by Dave Fishman  |  0 Comment  |  in Brand Management, Medical Affairs, Stakeholder Mapping, Strategic Partnering

Staking out Success in New Product Planning

Figures-around-the-tableNew therapies entering the market face a fiercely competitive landscape and companies continue to work committedly to establish and maintain their edge. One way has been to get the right individuals and groups on board for expert guidance and to build momentum. Stakeholder engagement has always played a role in the product planning phase but this has historically been limited to leading physicians and researchers.

The stakeholder universe is way more complicated than that. Unlike years past, we have finally come to the realization that physicians are not the be-all-end-all and that optimal disease prevention and management requires a collaborated effort of interventions and disciplines. It truly “takes a village”.

Further adding to the complexity is that that understanding these stakeholders and what they are about is not enough. We also need to know their inter-relationships. Appreciating the synergies of these stakeholders and how they work together within a particular disease landscape can help define a strategy of how a product can best fit once it is launched. To achieve this most effectively, an approach should leverage clinical insights, analytics, and business acumen.

The process starts with assessing the stakeholder landscape. All stakeholders that have direct or even tangential influence are reviewed and analyzed. We tend to start by looking several degrees of separation from the “usual suspects” and then proceed to exclude those that are irrelevant. As seen below, clinicians only comprise small segment of the overall stakeholder landscape.

Government Public/Private Partnerships Patients
Non-Pharmacologic Approaches Professional Societies Payers
Diagnostics Clinicians Think Tanks
Hospital/Provider Groups Caregivers Corporate Initiatives
Advocacy Groups Competitors Celebrities

Now, doing this type of analysis requires more than a few sources. Rather a tremendous amount (I’m talking about 100+ sources) of information should be gathered and from “disparate” sources. We have found that often combining dissimilar datasets provides the most valuable insight. Additionally, there is no need to recreate the wheel, a lot of data exists both in the public domain and on many company’s servers. The secret ingredient to understanding stakeholder significance and interaction is not the data itself, but the ability to determine the types of data to include how to analyze it. Algorithms should be developed that incorporate an understanding of the entire disease state “ecosystem” including clinical, institutional, financial, advocacy, supportive, advocacy, and others.
Once a wealth of information is captured in a relational database, there is virtually an endless number of stakeholder analyses that can be conducted.

Snowfish has pioneered this unique approach of building custom stakeholder landscapes designed to meet the needs of the particular product. Individuals and policies are able to be assessed across multiple groups and companies are able to plan their pre-launch and launch activities on a very detailed level. To learn more, please feel free to contact us at

David Fishman, MBA is President at Snowfish a strategic consulting firm that has almost two decades working exclusively with the pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical device industries. Please go to or call +703-759-6100 to learn more about our services.

Posted by Melissa Hammond  |  0 Comment  |  in Brand Management, Management Consulting, Medical Affairs, Product Development, Strategic Partnering

Combining Care with Cure: A New View on Palliative Care

Palliative CareQuality of death… No, that is not a misprint. It is actually the main premise of a recent report released by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) which exposed the global disparities in the availability of palliative care relative to the estimated need.

While a key objective of shedding light on the value of palliative care particularly given the aging of society was met, the use of the term “death” indeed misrepresents the main intention of these types of services. In fact, it is quite common for many stakeholders within the medical industry including clinicians, patients and therapy manufacturers to equate palliative care with end-of-life care or hospice.

Rather, palliative care is a valuable complement to an actual treatment which ideally takes place throughout the course of disease management. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), palliative care is:

An approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing               the problem associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and                 relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and             treatment of pain and other problems physical, psychosocial and spiritual.

In the context of palliative care “life threatening” should not mean imminent death, but refers to a condition that can ultimately result in a person’s demise. According to a 2013 report titled, Essential Medicines in Palliative Care, these interventions should:

  • Provides relief from pain and other distressing symptoms;
  • Intends neither to hasten or postpone death;
  • Will enhance quality of life, and may also positively influence the course of illness;
  • Is applicable early in the course of illness, in conjunction with other therapies that are intended to prolong life, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy, and includes those investigations needed to better understand and manage distressing clinical complications

These points drive to the fact that end of life care or preparing for death are only a small fraction of palliative care. As echoed by Diane Meier, MD a primary-care geriatrician and director of the Hertzberg Palliative Care Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, “The vast majority of patients who need palliative care are not dying”. She supports that all patients regardless of their ability to recover from serious illness should be receiving palliative care measures.

While not characterized as such, the therapeutics industry has been long engaging in
palliative care. These measures are designed to treat the often debilitating symptoms associated with an illness or its treatment such as pain, anxiety, depression, cachexia, nausea/vomiting, constipation, and dyspnea.

Among non-drug interventions, pharmaceutical management is an essential part of alleviating them and the industry is marketing and developing a multitude of therapies for this purpose. Despite all of the efforts in this area, companies fail to tout their palliative care portfolios.

The reason is likely due to points made earlier; the perception that palliative care equates to preparing an individual for death. As an industry, we revel in the thrill of the “cure”, “control” and “putting disease into remission”. There is likely poor awareness of the benefits of palliative care beyond relief of individual suffering even though a significant amount of evidence supports that palliative care in addition to conventional medical care results in improved quality of life, higher satisfaction with medical care, lower rates of readmission/emergency department visits, and even greater survival in certain diseases (cancer).

Is there benefit for the industry to formalize our role in palliative care?

Absolutely – though significant analysis is critical to determine how this should be defined. It can be as simple as pulling disparate agents into a single portfolio or creating a subset of within a given disease state portfolio to provide a coordinated method for “care and cure”. Products may be incorporated with other non-pharmaceutical methods and even certain types of training to offer a whole palliative care “service”.

Regardless of the nomenclature used by the EIU to discuss palliative care, the report is still
worth a read. It reinforces that the need for palliative care is growing. The aging of our society brings with it the increases in diseases such as cancer, arthritis, dementia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease which will expand the need for primary care.

This is a ripe opportunity for the therapeutics industry to take hold of. The therapies are already being marketed and the relationships with stakeholders are in place. Through sharing of information and coordination, the therapeutics industry can take advantage of this significant opportunity – to move the focus away from quality of death with disease to living in comfort with disease.


Melissa Hammond, MSN, GNP is Managing Director at Snowfish at commercial insights firm. She is an expert in aging and aging issues as it relates to therapy development and commercialization. Please go to or call +703-759-6100 to learn more about our services.

Posted by Melissa Hammond  |  0 Comment  |  in Brand Management, Management Consulting, Medical Affairs, Product Development, Strategic Partnering

Open Payments Wabi-Sabi

Cracked Face

Unlike the Western World’s cultural devotion to “perfect beauty”, in Japanese art and culture the aesthetic of “Wabi-Sabi” – beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete” is much admired. As beauty is in the eye of the beholder, perhaps Open Payments is thus a delight for Japanese data analysts!

Open Payments had a difficult birth – the initial release in September 2014 contained payments for just the last five months of 2013 and was maimed by problems correctly identifying recipient healthcare providers, leaving 2/3rds of the over $3 Billion in payments as “de-identified”, making the dataset pretty useless for solid analysis.

The second release of Open Payments, on June 30th 2015, corrected that very ugly flaw, for both the revised 2013 and new 2014 data, boasting that all the payments were now “matched with total confidence to a particular covered recipient”. But there are plenty of lessor flaws that can trip up the unwary analyst.

Uncommon Teaching Hospital Names, Chopped or Not

Payments to around 1,200 teaching hospitals are in the dataset. CMS chose to use Open payments2the “PECOS” name of the hospital that had been originally registered with Medicare. Unfortunately these names can be quite different from the well-known hospital names we know today. For instance, you may be looking for payments to the famous Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. But its PECOS name is Memorial Hospital for Cancer & Allied Diseases. And that’s the name you will have to search for in the 2013 data. But to make it harder still, for the 2014 data CMS decided to truncate the names down to 36 characters (and upper case them), so you need to change your search to “MEMORIAL HOSPITAL FOR CANCER AND ALL” to find Sloan Kettering in the 2014 data.

Unique IDs, With a Catch

But, you may reasonably argue, CMS keeps a unique ID for each teaching hospital, right? Argh, yes and no! In their infinite wisdom they decided to change all these “unique” IDs for the 2014 data, so Sloan Kettering has ID 102 in the 2013 data, but ID 1265 in the 2014 data!

Non-covered Entities Munch on the Research Dollars

For research, as well as payments to physicians and teaching hospitals, payments to other “Non-covered Entities” are collected. These are typically hospitals, including, strangely, teaching hospitals. The thing is these mysterious Non-covered entities, in pac-man-esque fashion, are munching the vast bulk of research dollars:Research Payment Recipients

But Where’s the Beauty?

Despite its pretty darn ugly flaws, Open Payments can produce very interesting results, if analyzed carefully to avoid the booby traps. Here are some of the types of valuable analysis that can be performed:

  • By drug: Identify the most highly paid physicians in certain activities for a target list of drugs, categorized into speaking, consulting, and research engagements.
  • By competitors: Analyze your competition – see how your competitors compare in their marketing budgets, and where and on whom they spend their money.
  • By KOLs: Analyze the work of your own KOLs, find who else is funding them, and how you stack up against them.
  • By Institutions: Discover which institutions are receiving major research funding in your areas of interest, and from which of your competitors.
  • By Partners: Find new partners for your business plan, and analyze current partners, by identifying companies making complementary products who are spending in your target areas.
  • Trend Analysis: Find trends in your area of interest – who are the rising stars, and which types of work is becoming more valuable, and for which drugs.

How Do I Do These Tricky Analyses?

Snowfish offers a white paper, Healthcare Big Data: CMS Open Payments, covering the Open Payments database and its possibilities in more detail, and also have a real example of an analysis in Excel. The example shows the 30 most highly paid psychiatrists and neurologists, where we calculate the total payments made to each physician in each of a number of categories, and show not just the companies making the payments but also the associated drugs for the payments.

If you are interested in learning more about Snowfish’s industry-leading approach to healthcare data discovery and mining, and how we can help with your custom Open Payments analyses, please feel free to reach out to us.  This is the time to capitalize on this fascinating new opportunity.

Martin Snowden is Director or Technology at Snowfish. He is an expert at database integration and analysis. Snowfish integrates, clinical, analytic, and business insights for life sciences companies. We have worked with nearly three dozen companies for over a decade and leveraging big data to help increase a company’s competitive advantage. Snowfish can be reached at (703) 759-6100 or via e-mail at We are also on the web at

Posted by Melissa Hammond  |  0 Comment  |  in Brand Management, Management Consulting, Medical Affairs, Product Development, Strategic Partnering

Beyond KOL Identification & Mapping, What’s Next?

For decades, we have regarded physician key opinion leaders (KOLs) as the “rock stars” of the life sciences industry. Like the musical ones, these leaders have influenced trends and packed rooms. The press would chase them to get a window into what they are thinking. I guess one key difference is that they tend not to destroy hotel rooms.

Similar to a star musician’s impact on a large record label, the life science industry has long depended upon these influencers who were predominantly physicians, to ensure a therapy’s success.

Enter social media and other drivers of product uptake. The music industry has witnessed songs being made available digitally via an immeasurable number of sources and thus easily shareable. The artists themselves are no longer the main promoters of their product as others (mainly fans) through their endless articles, blogs, Tweets and reviews carefully guide our tastes in music. Technology has also opened a path for lesser known independent artists to gain widespread exposure.

Comparable dynamics are observed in the world of medicine. The physician is no longer the sole gatekeeper to access to the product of medical care. We all know that payers can make or break a particular treatment through their level of willingness to cover it.

Other clinicians such as nurse practitioners and pharmacists have been stepping up for some time now, to provide care and counseling. Widespread availability of information has patients more informed than ever. They are sharing their knowledge electronically as well as banding together to advocate for greater access and policy changes. Societies representing patients and professionals sponsor guidelines and position statements to guide disease management. Additionally, there is the role of research consortiums, support groups, social activities, technological modalities (such as telemedicine), and even home care and government-provided services to consider.

Physician KOLs, while still important, must be regarded as a key entity of a larger ecosystem of critical stakeholders. As every disease state or therapeutic area has its clinical specialists, it also involves the cooperation of other groups that are essential to ensuring that a disease is well managed and treatment takes place. Snowfish has worked with clients to define the larger ecosystem. Our analysis has spanned a broad and diverse constituencies including:

Centers of Excellence Mid-Level Practitioners
Payers Celebrities
Competitors                                     Think Tanks
Patients                                              Government/Policymakers
Caregivers Private/Public Partnerships  
Societies                                              Diagnostic Providers

Physician KOL mapping is ubiquitous within the life science industry. This is clearly not enough. Utilizing sophisticated analytics while taking a creative and forward thinking approach to data sources will help to zone in on the most important stakeholders which will not only build momentum around a product but an entire offering.

While our industry still has our obvious “rock stars” and needs to continue to cultivate them, it is evident that there are others who are exerting their influence in less than obvious ways. Identifying and engaging them will best ensure that for any given company, the music will never stop.

Melissa Hammond, MSN, GNP is Managing Director at Snowfish, LLC, a commercial insights firm. Snowfish has expertise in analysis of non-physician stakeholders and KOLs. Snowfish offers stakeholder identification and profiling to help companies understand who to engage not only today but ten years out. 

Please go to or call +703-759-6100 to learn more about our services.

Posted by Melissa Hammond  |  0 Comment  |  in Brand Management, Medical Affairs, Product Development, Strategic Partnering