CVS’s 800 MinuteClinics are the country’s largest provider of retail health care, and its staff does everything from writing prescriptions to providing vaccinations. The company’s decision reveals the tension many retailers who provide medical services are likely to face as primary care increasingly spreads to supermarkets, drop-in centers, and other unconventional locations.
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Heather Zoller (University of Cincinnati) suggests some key “Takeaways” on this story:
CVS’s decision to stop selling tobacco products should be applauded. This is an example of brand identity and image management aligning well with corporate social responsibility. CVS attributes their decision, which will cost them more than $2 billion in yearly revenue, to the recognized inconsistency between selling tobacco products and achieving its goal of becoming a major retail health care provider with its MinuteClinics. It is significant that the company proactively changed its policy rather than wait for activist groups or local policy makers to push for this decision.
Some commentators question whether CVS’s decision will reduce smoking rates. The company’s spokespeople have acknowledged that most of their tobacco customers will simply go elsewhere to make their purchases. However, CVS’s decision helps build a climate in which tobacco is more difficult to find, and viewed as a less acceptable business practice.
CVS demonstrates that companies can reduce or eliminate conflicts between business profits and public health (conflicts ranging from the sale of unhealthy products to occupational illness and injury to environmental effects). Of course, as we consider these conflicts, we also have to ask whether the MinuteClinics will provide accessible, high quality health care. Physician groups warn against the clinics, staffed by nurse practitioners and pharmacists (I’ve even received a warning from my children’s pediatric office). This remains an open question, but early evidence suggests that the retail clinics may provide a low-cost, quality alternative for routine health issues that challenges the dominance of high-cost physician care. If that is the case, we would be looking at a win-win situation.