Larry J. Merlo, pres­i­dent and CEO of CVS Care­mark, said on Tuesday morning at Northeastern’s CEO Break­fast Forum that the chal­lenges pre­sented by America’s rapidly evolving health­care land­scape will require inno­v­a­tive solu­tions that lower costs and improve patient access to quality care.

Merlo said today’s health­care industry is grap­pling with chal­lenges ranging from meeting the needs of Baby Boomers to what he called the “epi­demic” of patients’ non-​​adherence to pre­scrip­tion med­ica­tion sched­ules. The Afford­able Care Act, he added, is con­stantly intro­ducing new ele­ments into the fold.

All of the stake­holders in the system including con­sumers, employers, and hos­pi­tals, are expe­ri­encing levels of unprece­dented change,” said Merlo, the latest keynote speaker at Northeastern’s CEO Break­fast Forum series. Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun hosts the events, where leading CEOs share their exper­tise with audi­ences of other CEOs and senior exec­u­tives from the Greater Boston area.

President Joseph E. Aoun, right, greets Larry Merlo, president and CEO of CVS Caremark, on Tuesday morning at Northeastern's CEO Breakfast Forum. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun, right, greets Larry Merlo, pres­i­dent and CEO of CVS Care­mark, on Tuesday morning at Northeastern’s CEO Break­fast Forum. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

CVS Care­mark, Merlo explained, is dri­ving many inno­v­a­tive approaches to meet these health­care chal­lenges, par­tic­u­larly by rein­venting pharmacy’s role in the equa­tion. He detailed CVS Caremark’s Phar­macy Advisor Pro­gram, which helps patients manage the treat­ment of chronic dis­eases through a variety of resources such as coun­seling ser­vices and email noti­fi­ca­tions. He also pointed to Min­ute­Clinic, CVS Caremark’s retail med­ical clinics located in select CVS/​pharmacy stores nation­wide that Merlo said offer con­ve­nient, afford­able, high-​​quality care and ease the burden on hos­pi­tals treating non-​​emergency con­di­tions. Launched in 2000, there are now 650 Min­ute­Clinic loca­tions that have col­lec­tively treated 15 mil­lion patients.

CVS Care­mark is uniquely posi­tioned to help stake­holders nav­i­gate the com­plex­i­ties of a changing health­care system,” said Merlo. He noted that the company’s resources and ser­vices are extending the front­lines of care for con­sumers, helping to alle­viate the primary-​​care physi­cian shortage, closing gaps in care, and improving med­ica­tion adherence.

In his intro­duc­tory remarks, Aoun high­lighted the long­standing rela­tion­ship between North­eastern and CVS Care­mark, par­tic­u­larly through part­ner­ships in the School of Phar­macy and School of Nursing in the Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences. CVS Care­mark cur­rently employs 278 alumni and nearly 700 stu­dents have com­pleted co-​​ops at CVS Care­mark since 2002. In addi­tion, 45 phar­macy stu­dents from the 2013 grad­u­ating class were placed at CVS Care­mark for their Advanced Phar­macy Prac­tice Experiences—intensive expe­ri­en­tial courses—during their final year in the Doctor of Phar­macy program.

North­eastern grad­u­ates have cer­tainly demon­strated their lead­er­ship abil­i­ties among our work­force,” Merlo said.

Aoun noted how Northeastern’s inno­v­a­tive approach to higher edu­ca­tion through expe­ri­en­tial edu­ca­tion par­al­lels CVS Caremark’s novel approach to health­care solu­tions. “I was struck by the sim­i­lar­i­ties between the two,” he said.

During a question-​​and-​​answer ses­sion, Jack Reynolds, dean of the School of Phar­macy, asked Merlo to dis­cuss ways in which the school’s cur­ricula could inte­grate new ele­ments that align with the evolving health­care field. Merlo pointed to two areas of oppor­tu­nity: cus­tomer inter­ac­tion and the evolving nature of the phar­macy industry.

Describing the chal­lenges related to cus­tomer inter­ac­tion, Merlo told the story of a Min­ute­Clinic nurse prac­ti­tioner who noticed a high-​​school athlete’s heart murmur during a rou­tine phys­ical and directed the family to a spe­cialist. The boy’s mother ini­tially ques­tioned the finding, but the specialist’s later con­fir­ma­tion com­pelled her to write a warm letter to CVS Care­mark lauding the nurse practitioner’s careful attention.

This is just one story about what is hap­pening out there every day, whether it’s a nurse prac­ti­tioner or a phar­ma­cist doing won­derful things that ulti­mately end up saving people’s lives,” Merlo said.