Since 2008, Dr. Troyen Brennan has served as executive vice president and chief medical officer at CVS Health Corp. Previously known as CVS Caremark Corp., the pharmacy chain operates 7,800 stores and nearly 1,000 walk-in clinics in 31 states under the MinuteClinic brand. He oversees the company's clinical and medical affairs strategies. Before joining CVS, Brennan was CMO at insurance giant Aetna and previously was CEO of Brigham and Women's Physicians Organization in Boston. He earned his medical degree, law degree and a master's in public health from Yale as well as a master's degree from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes scholar. Modern Healthcare reporter Bob Herman recently talked with Brennan about CVS' decision to drop the sale of tobacco products at its stores, the growing role of retail clinics and the chain's mission to help patients manage medications and their costs. This is an edited transcript.
Modern Healthcare: CVS stopped selling cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products last October. What are the results so far, and what has the reaction been?
Dr. Troyen Brennan: It has gone well, and the reaction has been positive. We saw our future in the industry and realized the sale of tobacco products was antithetical to healthcare. We guessed that the cost would be about $2 billion in lost revenue, but we hoped to make that up in the long term by developing more products that emphasize people's health. We also changed our name to CVS Health, which seems to have resonated with the public. Overall revenue is up as a result. We haven't replaced the loss in our retail stores associated with tobacco, but we're confident we will.
MH: Do you see other major pharmacy companies following suit?
Brennan: Unfortunately, no, we don't see other retailers following suit, even though we've developed evidence that demonstrates that when you eliminate tobacco sales from retail pharmacies, overall rates of smoking decrease—at least that's what we have found in Boston and San Francisco.
MH: Can you talk a little bit more about the products you hope will make up for the lost revenue?
Brennan: We're very interested in trying to add more products that contribute to people's health. We have begun to make some changes overall in the types of food we offer, and we'll continue to do that, as well as looking to products that emphasize health as well as beauty.
MH: What do you think is actually the biggest public health crisis right now?
Brennan: We still have to count tobacco as the biggest public health problem in the country—one that is solvable by getting people to stop smoking. The next one is the problem we have with weight. Obesity rates are way too high and are associated with very high rates of other diseases like diabetes, hypertension and coronary artery disease. So, when we think about a wellness approach, we're focusing on those issues.
MH: You've written a lot about patient-safety topics and overall healthcare quality. What are your current views of the patient-safety movement and the legal avenues patients have to deal with medical errors?
Brennan: The patient-safety movement is vibrant and developing a lot of good programs in hospitals and healthcare institutions. As a result, there have been a lot of good outcomes for patients. Regarding liability, that's not as substantial an issue as it was 15 or 20 years ago. I think people are less concerned about issues associated with malpractice somehow interfering with patient safety.