CVS Health

Data insights in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic helped CVS Health improve readiness, response

Scheduled and delivered 40,000+ vaccines to long-term care facilities, mapped to 1,200+ supplier locations

78+ million COVID-19 vaccinations given in 2021-22, including over 40% to underserved communities

Prioritized equitable distribution of vaccines across all CVS locations, with less than 0.1% of vaccines wasted

CVS Health has largely been well known for its pharmacy locations in neighborhoods across America. However, in the last decade, CVS Health has redefined its mission to become a health solutions-focused company. This has included optimizing the retail environment to serve as a community health destination, with a focus on providing omnichannel, accessible, and affordable health care services via CVS Pharmacy and MinuteClinic® locations.

Amid this transformation, data and analytics have played a central role in keeping the company agile, strategic, and focused in the right areas for developing strategies to improve the patient journey. The central role of analytics — including during the global pandemic — has been part of the ongoing transformation at the company toward a modernized, data-centric culture.

“Modernization and achieving innovation at scale are critical imperatives for health care, and at CVS Health, the role of analytics has really accelerated over the past couple years,” said Kelly Mok, Director of Retail Analytics Strategy. “We’ve developed close partner relationships based on data analysis production, we’ve empowered more users with self-service dashboards in Tableau, we’ve built new models that align better with our business, and we’ve increased our focus on using data to improve health outcomes in traditionally underserved communities.”

I think one thing that's been really compelling for me as a data scientist is that you can't just build interesting models in a vacuum and think that that's going to drive any kind of impact. The visualization and storytelling piece is critical.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, CVS Health was a leader in providing preventative health care at scale, administering more than 10 million flu vaccinations annually in recent years. This was made possible partly due to the company’s extensive physical retail infrastructure: 85% of the US population lives within 10 miles of a CVS pharmacy, helping to position CVS not only as a household brand name, but also as a highly practical resource for reaching communities nationwide. This level of presence, especially in socially vulnerable areas, is also key to improving health equity — a CVS Health priority.

But with such a massive scale of operations, CVS Health needed an organized approach to analyzing data and providing a “source of truth” to enable business and public health solutions. By centrally modeling and analyzing health care data, the company refined the way it managed and supported its vast network of retail locations. When COVID-19 hit, this centralized data model became even more important, serving as a crucial catalyst for CVS Health’s ability to quickly scale its services to urban and rural populations across the US.

Executing a comprehensive pandemic response with data

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, CVS Health has administered more than 58 million COVID-19 tests and more than 78 million COVID-19 vaccines. They accomplished this level of execution by leveraging their position as a data-focused health care company, combining real-time internal data with comprehensive external data to provide critical insights in the face of uncertainty. The combination of real-time analytics insights with widespread geographic reach meant that CVS Health was uniquely positioned to respond to and help combat the health crisis, as well as to shape the national response and ensure that all key initiatives were fast, flexible, and fair.

To organize the pandemic response, the Analytics team partnered with key leaders across CVS Health to stand up the data-driven initiatives that underpinned its actions. “Early on, there was no dedicated team to handle this large-scale effort, so Francois Fressin, Executive Director of Strategic Retail Health Analytics and I ended up forming the initial CVS Health COVID-19 Data and Modeling Center,” said Mok. “Within the first few days, we received tons of information from external sources. We coupled this with internal CVS data, other external data, and expert feedback to build and synthesize a presentation for leadership about what was actually happening.”

What started as a team of two gradually expanded to more than 15 people, focused on collecting data they could integrate into their modeling center’s programmatic response. Over time, the team’s mission grew to include generating insights that would also impact the company’s core business strategies beyond vaccine and COVID test delivery, given the twists and turns the pandemic took in exposing new kinds of issues over time.

Within the first few days of our pandemic response, we received a plethora of information from external sources. We coupled this with internal CVS data, other external data, and expert feedback to build and synthesize a story for leadership about what was actually happening.

The complexity of these intersecting requirements meant the team needed to achieve real agility and precision with the data they were tracking and using to model their response. “CVS has been a data-driven company for a while now, but it reached a whole new level during the pandemic, which none of us really expected,” said Fressin. “We had only a short time to build a whole strategy for providing access to vaccines throughout the US. It had to be done as efficiently as possible, and data was the glue connecting all the pieces.”

Mok wholeheartedly agrees, and credits Tableau with playing a key role in facilitating the team’s rapid development activities. “I remember when vaccines were still being tested, and we were all eagerly awaiting their approval,” she said. In a couple of days, we set up a literal mission control room on the CVS Woonsocket campus featuring multiple dashboards that visualized a wide range of CVS and external data.”

These decision-enablement capabilities, Mok pointed out, will continue to help CVS Health beyond the current challenges. Adapting CVS Health culture around powerful new analytics capabilities played a critical role in mobilizing and managing vaccine distribution, but also helped position the company for future success, enabling teams to pursue new initiatives for making health care more efficient and accessible.

Pursuing new initiatives fueled by data, analytics, and cloud-based CRM

To support its digital transformation, CVS Health utilizes a range of tools such as Salesforce Health Cloud to deliver personalized patient experiences, ultimately driving better health outcomes for CVS Health’s pharmacy patients while reducing operating costs and increasing efficiency.

With this unified view of patient data, Mok and her team used Tableau to easily build and enhance dashboards in dynamic ways based on new insights from the data they collected. In this way, CVS Health found better ways not only to serve its customers and its mission, but also to modernize their operations and innovate at scale.

“We’ve worked on stacking our team with talent in different areas,” said Mok. “We have data engineers who pull the data for us, data scientists with brilliant minds who compile the models and forecasts, and visualization folks that help us synthesize what's happening for our business partners. These visualizations become the key strategic pieces we use for storytelling and driving important decisions.”

Supporting vulnerable populations

A key tenet of CVS Health’s data modeling and analysis efforts has been improving the health experience to provide more convenient, equitable, personalized, and affordable care for consumers. Of the more than 78 million COVID-19 vaccinations CVS Health administered in the last few years, over 40% were to underrepresented communities.

“The ability to reach these vulnerable communities has been critical since the beginning,” said Mok. “Vaccines were the key for giving them a chance to protect themselves.”

Shivaani Prakash, Lead Director of Retail Health Data Science and co-lead of the company’s COVID-19 Data and Modeling Center, agrees. “I’ve spent my whole career in public health, where we’re always trying to design the best interventions for communities who need care the most urgently,” she said. “We’re in a position to make a real difference across communities.”

For example, one challenge that arose early on in the availability of COVID-19 vaccines was uncertainty around the quantity of vaccines CVS Health could procure at any given time, or how long it would take to receive them. Using multiple sources of data, the company organized a ranking of stores by state in terms of need, impact, and geographic coverage. As the modeling center team identified areas with higher demand or less accessibility, they could adjust rankings to keep the list updated and ensure that levers such as additional site selection, community partnerships, mobile clinics, and proactive outreach were all deployed accordingly. By using this robust selection algorithm, CVS Health succeeded in optimally and equitably delivering millions of vaccines across all its locations, with limited vaccine waste—and helped position the company to better address and overcome supply chain and distribution challenges in the future. Overall, this level of data-driven organization has furthered CVS Health’s mission of improving health outcomes for its patients and increasing access where it is most lacking. 

 “In the past few years there have been so many unknowns,” said Mok. “But the ways we’ve found for using data have made us stronger, because we can estimate what’s going on and how it’s going to have an impact on our business, as well as on the wellbeing of the individuals and communities we serve.”