3 ways the pandemic has advanced personalized health care

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This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Kyu Rhee, MD, MPP, Senior Vice President and Aetna Chief Medical Officer, CVS Health

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly changed US public health systems.
  • There has been a shift towards more personalized, community-based systems.
  • New study reveals key areas of change where care is delivered and received.

It’s been almost two years since the pandemic made its way to US shores. Like much of the world, Americans have experienced extreme public health challenges during that time. The constantly shifting landscape has had a profound effect on our health system and our overall definition of well-being.

The 2021 Health Care Insights Study by CVS Health shows some of these long-lasting effects, highlights the resilience of patients and providers, and reveals a fascinating transformation in consumer health preferences. While we continue to navigate the complexities of this pandemic and its far-reaching impacts, one thing is certain: we have a new and unique opportunity to reimagine the way care is delivered and received.

1. Health 24/7

The pandemic highlighted the need for accessibility of care in the right place, anytime. This transformation in consumer care preferences has boosted the use of telemedicine and highlighted the importance of the “neighbourhood” primary care model.

We saw a notable spike in the use of telemedicine in the US at the height of the pandemic. In fact, CVS Health experienced a 600% increase in the use of our MinuteClinic virtual visits and other telemedicine services. Although this high utilization was likely due to unique health care delivery needs during a national shut down, analysts predict that post-pandemic virtual care engagement will remain 20-30% above the pre-pandemic baseline.

Routine and preventive care is also moving toward a neighbourhood-based model, offering health solutions that meet people where they are. Our study reflects this trend, showing consumers’ growing interest in exploring community health centres (19% vs. 15% in 2020) and local pharmacies (17% vs. 11% in 2020) for primary care. We are reimagining health with community-based care that improves access and focuses on preventive care and chronic disease management.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about mental health?

One in four people will experience mental illness in their lives, costing the global economy an estimated $6 trillion by 2030.

Mental ill-health is the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people aged 10–24 years, contributing up to 45% of the overall burden of disease in this age-group. Yet globally, young people have the worst access to youth mental health care within the lifespan and across all the stages of illness (particularly during the early stages).

In response, the Forum has launched a global dialogue series to discuss the ideas, tools and architecture in which public and private stakeholders can build an ecosystem for health promotion and disease management on mental health.

One of the current key priorities is to support global efforts toward mental health outcomes – promoting key recommendations toward achieving the global targets on mental health, such as the WHO Knowledge-Action-Portal and the Countdown Global Mental Health

Read more about the work of our Platform for Shaping the Future of Health and Healthcare, and contact us to get involved.

Our innovative Pharmacist Panel programme brings together the power of the pharmacist-patient relationship, data analytics and AI to help close care gaps in a new and unique way. Technology that analyzes medical, prescription and lab data identifies opportunities for improved care, prioritizing select Aetna and Caremark members who need the most support to manage their chronic conditions. Pharmacists then engage one-on-one with these members to help drive next best actions.

Personalized interventions like this show promising results, including an 8% increase in medication adherence, a 4% increase in care gap closures, and a 12% reduction in unnecessary emergency room visits.

Through our scale, a community presence of over 9,900 stores, and a breadth of health care capabilities and touchpoints, local pharmacies like CVS Health and retail clinics like MinuteClinic are well positioned to deliver accessible, affordable and exceptional care for individuals in the neighbourhoods they serve.

2. Mental health matters

The pandemic has highlighted the need for more accessible support and resources to help people address moments of stress, feelings of anxiety and isolation, and behavioural health conditions that require care.

CVS Health recognized early on in the pandemic that mental health needs were rising across the US and that the complex, disconnected system of care we have for behavioural health presents large barriers for consumers. We introduced mental health services through selected HealthHUB™ locations earlier this year. These services offer patients affordable, easy and oftentimes immediate access to MinuteClinic licensed clinical social workers who can assess and diagnose mental well-being needs, provide counseling and help people find additional community resources.

COVID-19's impact on mental health. Source: CVS Health.
COVID-19’s impact on mental health. Source: CVS Health.

This hybrid approach to care, which features both in-person and virtual appointments, is something we’re seeing consumers increasingly prefer. Our study found that over half of respondents (64%) would consider a virtual visit to see a behavioural health specialist. For patients who aren’t sure how to access mental health services, increasing access points to care creates a roadmap for treatment, no matter how big or small the concern may be.

3. Health is a team sport

The pandemic, which has driven innovations in vaccines, treatments and access to care, has also given us a chance to deliver care in new ways. Key to these changes are the important roles that pharmacists, physician assistants, nurses and other providers have played during this difficult time.

It is no surprise that consumers often cite pharmacists as one of their most trusted providers, as it’s estimated that patients see their pharmacist up to 10 times more often than their primary care provider (PCP). That relationship has grown during the pandemic, as pharmacists were highly accessible during periods of shutdown.

At CVS Health, pharmacists also have been on the frontlines of administering over 34 million COVID-19 vaccines and more than 32 million tests in the US. Our study validated the deep trust people have in their pharmacists, finding that next to PCPs (69%), people are most open to taking health recommendations from pharmacists (45%). In the years to come, the pharmacist’s role and that of other providers will continue to evolve, helping to address critical physician workforce shortages and providing patients with more care options.

How providers can meet patients where they are

The unique challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have helped to set the stage for new ways to meet people where they are – and want to be – on their respective health care journeys. This difficult time has changed the demand for care and exposed the fragile nature of our health system. Specifically, it has accelerated the shift to 24/7 care; highlighted the growing need for accessible, affordable mental health care; and revealed how community-based care teams can help meet both preventive and chronic care needs. As we look forward to 2022 and a post-pandemic world, we have an unprecedented opportunity to take the lessons we’ve learned and apply them to create a better, healthier future.

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