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CVS Health releases Health Trends Report 2021

CVS Health president and CEO Karen Lynch noted that a year of transformational challenges has sparked change and innovation in health care.
Sandra Levy
Senior Editor
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A year of transformational challenges has sparked change and innovation in health care. So said, CVS Health president and CEO Karen Lynch, in introductory remarks as CVS Health released its annual Health Trends Report 2021 today.

Lynch also noted that the COVID-19 pandemic is a defining moment for health care and that pharmacists, researchers, clinicians and every single person on the front lines of care have stepped up like never before.

Lynch continued, "Our industry continues to face a once-in-a-lifetime ,challenge, and together we continue to respond with resilience and innovation. Each year, our Health Trends Report examines the forces impacting care – including the latest in health technology – and forecasts where our industry is headed. This year’s report is heavily influenced by the realities and ripple effects of COVID-19, such as the rise of virtual health care and the increasing rates of anxiety, depression and other mental health issues stemming from social isolation."

Lynch praised pharmacists, researchers, clinicians and every single person on the front lines of care who have stepped up like never before. "Our industry continues to face a once-in-a-lifetime challenge, and together we continue to respond with resilience and innovation."

While COVID-19 continues to dominate the health care conversation, Lynch said our industry continues to innovate through crisis. “The smart use of health data and technology, for example, has opened new ways to identify patients when they need care the most,” she said.

Alongside the pandemic, Lynch emphasized that our country is also experiencing an extraordinary awakening on racial inequality, which she said is 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,” she said.

Finally, Lynch said that although we are facing a challenging time, it also is a time 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.”

Neela Montgomery, executive vice president of CVS Health and president of CVS Pharmacy/Retail concurred. “Pharmacists practicing at the top of their licenses are advocates who listen to patient concerns, educate on available options and connect patients with solutions to improve their health. That has particularly held true during the COVID-19 crisis, given the immense role our pharmacists play in providing accessible, community-based care. We hope to make that an even stronger pillar of our healthcare system.”

Among the trends cited in the report:

  • Cardiac care. “The pandemic 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.
  • Cancer care. The report notes that rapid advances in oncology have sometimes made treatment paths more uncertain, and urgers payers and providers to join forces to fix that. "Breakthroughs in cancer treatment are a bright spot in 21st-century medicine, with mortality rates decreasing by 1.5% every year for the past two decades. The number and complexity of new treatments, however, have sometimes caused confusion for providers—and wide differences in practice," the report says. Last year, Roger Brito, an oncologist and the divisional head of Enterprise Oncology at CVS Health, helped launch the Transform Oncology Care program, which aims to use new technology to advance outcomes for oncology patients, their physicians and payers. The program is being rolled out nationwide to health plans that contract with CVS Health and for purchase to nonmember provider systems.
  • EHRs.  The report points out that starting on April 5, 2021, all patients will be able to freely access their own medical records, a stipulation of the 21st Century Cures Act. While patients have always been to request their own medical records, the Cures Act will enable new patient access provisions and better interoperability.
  •  The Mental Health Shadow of COVID-19 .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 well-being, 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. In the report, McNulty discusses the crisis in mental health care and possible steps to address it.
  • Tailoring Care to the Older Patient. Aging populations face special risks. New protocols and tools will help keep them healthy longer. The number of people older than 65 will double by the year 2060, and if current trends hold, two out of three of them will have multiple chronic conditions. Meeting their health care needs will call not only for a shift in perspective but in clinical practice.
  • More Agents that Predict Disease. Behind the scenes, smart algorithms can sort through data and identify a 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—letting them know that kidney disease or a complication in their chronic condition is on the horizon.
  • Paying for the New Medical Miracles. Million-dollar treatments are becoming more common. Recent discoveries are, in some cases, completely changing the rules of intractable disease. Gene therapies, in particular, can sometimes offer durable improvement or complete cures, and the Food and Drug Administration expects to approve up to 20 such therapies a year by 2025. “The drug pipeline is very exciting from a clinical point of view,” said Joanne Armstrong, Enterprise Head of Women’s Health and Genomics at CVS Health. “We are seeing powerful therapies, and as these prove their clinical worth, we expect to see more.”
  • Virtual Care goes Mainstream. The past year has been a trial by fire for telehealth. As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in March 2020, so too did the number of U.S. telehealth visits, which soared to more than 150% of what they had been the year before. In April, virtual visits made up nearly 70% of all patient-provider interactions, and Doximity, an online network for doctors, estimated in September that more than 20% of all medical visits in 2020 will have been delivered via telemedicine, representing nearly $30 billion of medical services.“ We are seeing health care paradigms shift all around us,” said Jonathan Mayhew, executive vice president of transformation at CVS Health. “Understanding the shift in consumer experience and charting how it can lead to better care will be the big challenge of the decade ahead.”
  • Diabetes Care. The disease is one of the country’s most unequal crises. Moving treatment closer to underserved neighborhoods may be a critical step. Racial inequalities have driven the disease for decades. The number of people in the U.S. living with diabetes has almost tripled since 2000, and by 2050, it could affect as many as one in three people in the country. But that caseload is not distributed evenly. Black adults are especially at risk, and nearly twice as likely as white adults to develop Type 2 diabetes. A quick look at other populations with elevated risks—other racial minorities as well as people with lower incomes—should be cause for alarm and swift action, the report says. 

Peter Simmons, vice president of Transformation, Pharmacy Delivery and Innovation at CVS Health addressed social determinants of health. “We’ve found people are not only open and willing to share social needs with their pharmacists but in many cases they listen to and act on the advice and recommendations of pharmacists," he said.

Simmons outlined HealthTag, a pilot involving Aetna Medicaid members in two states, in which CVS Health pharmacists have started to include local resources along with medication directions inside the prescription bag. These resources might include details about how to get help with food, housing or transportation through local community services. The network of these organizations is backed by Unite Us, a social care coordination program. "When we can help people overcome challenges such as food insecurity or the lack of proper nutrition, that is a major step forward toward helping them make significant advances in their overall health,” Simmons said.

To view the full report, click here.