CVS Health is declaring 2021 as the "Year of the Pharmacist," in its annual Health Trends Report, thanks to the expanded role that pharmacists have assumed amid the pandemic.
Karen Lynch, CVS Health president called the COVID-19 pandemic a defining moment for health care. "Pharmacists, researchers, clinicians and every single person on the front lines of care have stepped up like never before," she said. "Our industry continues to face a once-in-a-lifetime challenge, and together we continue to respond with resilience and innovation."
Lynch went on to say that while COVID-19 continues to dominate the health care conversation, our industry continues to innovate through crisis. She noted that the smart use of health data and technology, for example, has opened new ways to identify patients when they need care the most.
Lynch also addressed the fact that our country also is experiencing an extraordinary awakening on racial inequality, which she called a longstanding barrier to equitable health outcomes. "I find it personally heartening to see stakeholders across the health care industry begin to question the status quo and identify new opportunities to make services more equitable. We should all be proud of the direction our industry is taking. Yet, there is still more to be done to drive fair access to health care for all," Lynch said.
Lynch concluded, "We are facing a challenging time, but also one of great hope and promise. As the pandemic eventually passes, its lessons will serve to make our health system more agile and more responsive to the needs of consumers. That’s at the heart of our purpose to be there for every meaningful moment of health throughout an individual’s lifetime."
Among the main trends highlighted in the report:
- In 2021, pharmacists will take on larger roles, including helping to administer COVID vaccines. Pharmacy will continue to be the most frequent healthcare touchpoint in the coming year, with millions of Americans heading there for the COVID-19 vaccine and for other routine interactions. According to the most recent National Pharmacist Workforce Study, pharmacists have been more active than ever in their traditional roles, which include counseling patients and connecting them to other services. "We hope to make pharmacy an even stronger pillar of our health care system,” said Neela Montgomery, executive vice president of CVS Health and President of CVS Pharmacy/retail;
- The use of electronic medical records in 2021, and beyond, will continue to face growing pains. Innovations in software and integration are already changing some of their more vexing features. Starting on April 5, a stipulation of the 21st Century Cures Act enables patients to freely access their own medical records. In recent years, Epic and Cerner, the two largest EHR companies have launched implementing workflow efficiencies and instituted a focused review system for every new alert. “Interoperability has been a big area of our focus. It has to be,” said Sharon Vitti, president of MinuteClinic and senior vice president of CVS Health;
- Mental Health: Many people have experienced episodes of poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. To help them, “it’s important that we continue the conversation around mental health and wellbeing, and that we continue to reduce stigma, so that people aren’t afraid to seek care,” said Cara McNulty, president of Aetna Behavioral Health and Employee Assistance Program;
- Cardiac Care :The pandemic also has underlined a need for “more care at home, more care directed by patients, in real time, using new technologies,” said Alan Lotvin, executive vice president of CVS Health and president of CVS Caremark;
- Data solutions. Smart algorithms can sort through data and identify health crisis before it happens. Big data has already helped make treatment more personal and effective. Its next step may be to help providers spot disease risk before a patient is aware of it;
- Tailoring care to older patients. Aging populations face special risks. New protocols and tools will help keep them healthy longer;
- Growth of powerful, but costly treatments, such as gene therapy. As these game-changing treatments enter clinical practice, it’s up to the entire industry — payers, providers, drug manufacturers and other health care stakeholders — to get them to patients without bankrupting the system. A number of innovations on the payment side are aiming to do just that;
- Virtual care goes mainstream. While most of the attention has been on televisits, the pandemic also led to other changes, including the wider adoption of apps and wearables; and
- Diabetes care is community care. Health risk is tied to neighborhoods and communities, and diabetes is no different. Populations at highest risk for the disease are statistically more likely to live in places without easy access to supermarkets, a factor that increases risk, or access to health care providers. In the years ahead, solutions that take place in these same neighborhoods will be key to turning back the tide of the disease.
The full report can be accessed here.