Change is a constant in health care, but the past years have seen those changes come at a clip. Smart technology has opened the floodgates of medical data and its possibilities for more personalized care. Health care leaders have also met a powerful ally in the empowered consumer, more willing than ever to take charge of their own health and wellness, and at the same time, demanding to be better informed about how they can achieve the best results.
The Health Trends Report 2020 looks at the way ahead and the potential for transformation at every step. Here are six developments we believe are worth watching and the ways that action today can help people and communities across the United States on their path to better health.
The current approach to kidney treatment is ripe for reinvention. As many as one in seven Americans suffer from chronic kidney disease, and caring for them uses one in five Medicare dollars. With a growing caseload of diabetes — a precursor to kidney injury — kidney health will demand even greater attention in the years ahead.
One way forward will be to innovate in prevention and early detection. Only a minority of people with damaged kidneys know about their condition. New efforts in predictive analytics may identify people at high risk of kidney disease and those at risk of getting worse. Evidence shows that catching the disease earlier can lead to better management, fewer complications and lower costs.
Making that kind of difference calls for a bird’s eye view of the patient’s health. CVS Kidney Care launched in 2018 to bring clinical and quality of life improvements to patients with kidney disease. It focuses on identification of chronic kidney disease, targeted engagement and ongoing education to help slow disease progression, facilitate more kidney transplants and bring innovations in home dialysis to patients who can benefit from it.
Americans are taking control of their own health, spending more than ever on fitness, personal care and healthy eating. Part of that trend includes a wider use of dietary supplements, now part of a daily routine for about three-quarters of U.S. consumers. But consumers have concerns about these products, which haven’t always contained everything that is listed on the label.
Retailers can help. In 2019, CVS Pharmacy rolled out its Tested to Be Trusted program, a first-in-the-industry initiative requiring that supplements sold by the company — some 1,400 products — undergo third-party testing for a wide range of metrics.
This program is the latest proof that health care retailers can play a critical role in informing the consumer. Tested to Be Trusted echoes other programs from CVS Health, including the decision to discontinue sunblock products with SPF less than 15 and a move to reformulate 600 store-brand products to remove chemicals such as parabens, phthalates and formaldehyde donors.
Tested for What
Data is the resource powering the next decade of innovation. But while most industries have already put their customers’ information to work, health care has often lagged a step behind. Part of the obstacle has been technical: medical data exists in silos and in systems that don’t always speak the same language.
But where data points are beginning to come together, the future is taking off. Algorithms can help pinpoint the best time to remind patients to take a medication, giving a boost to adherence. They can help navigate patients through follow-up and insurance issues. And a new generation of wearable medical devices — expected to double in use by 2022 — deliver a stream of data points that promise to transform care.
“No one company will invent all of the breakthrough technologies,” says Firdaus Bhathena, Chief Digital Officer at CVS Health. “Part of our role … will be to stitch the information from all of these sources into experiences that are truly meaningful.”
Nearly 40 million people in the United States have trouble putting food on the table or a roof over their heads. In that day-to-day struggle, health care can become an afterthought. Poorer Americans are more likely to go without preventive measures or wait until an illness gets serious before seeking help, which is one reason that the gap in life expectancy between rich and poor is growing.
Critically, many of the underserved live in parts of the country with fewer hospitals and primary care physicians, so preventative care needs to find a way to come to them. One promising idea is to deliver more services at retail outposts, including pharmacies and retail clinics.
One example is Project Health from CVS Health, an annual campaign that offers free screenings in underserved communities. The events are held in some CVS Pharmacy locations in the United States and Puerto Rico, and clinicians are on hand to measure blood pressure, body mass index, glucose and total cholesterol. About one-third of those who attend first become aware of a health concern or condition through the screenings.
One out of every three people over 45 years old feels lonely. Millennials are also reporting social isolation at high rates, according to the 2019 Path to Better Health Study from CVS Health. Smaller families and less tightly knit neighborhoods contribute to the growing problem, and the former U.S. Surgeon General called loneliness the country’s “most common pathology.”
Becoming socially isolated can hurt the body as well as the mind. It carries a high risk for depression, compromised immune systems, cardiovascular disease and hypertension. A lack of companionship can even rob years from someone’s life, causing early death at similar rates as obesity.
The problem needs to be solved community by community, but major players in health care can’t stand by while that happens. CVS has explored screening for loneliness at its MinuteClinic locations, and certain CVS HealthHUBs will make meeting rooms available for community events. Aetna has also developed a Social Isolation Index to help estimate each Medicare member’s risk of social isolation. “If we want to help people achieve their best health, we have to look at the whole person, not just their symptoms,” says Karen Lynch, President of the Aetna Business Unit and Executive Vice President of CVS Health. “That means understanding and addressing all dimensions of well-being, including mental health and social connectedness.”
Drug pricing is one of the most discussed topics in health care — and for good reason. Price increases for both brand name and generic medications have far exceeded the rate of inflation. A recent national poll commissioned by CVS Health found that 79 percent of Americans are concerned about prescription drug costs and how they will affect their families’ budgets.
One potential solution for this complex problem has been to make prices more readily available to consumers. With more transparency around out-of-pocket prices, the public can make smarter choices about their treatments and providers, just as they would when shopping for groceries or an airline ticket.
Both the public and private sectors are looking to bring this kind of solution to life, especially if it means a patient can know their real costs when discussing a new medication with physicians. Unexpected costs contribute to an estimated one-third of prescriptions that are never filled, even though most people would ask for a lower-cost alternative instead of foregoing treatment if they had the option.
The future of U.S. health care is no longer a topic limited to a few industry leaders. It is a national conversation — one that includes health care professionals, community members, industry leaders, and most important, the millions of people they serve. Consumers have become the leading voice in health care, driving each of these trends and innovations, eager to bring the industry in line with their needs. Their ideas of health care no longer stop at trips to the pharmacy or an annual visit to the doctor, but are shaped by hundreds of decisions, services and solutions every day to help them get and stay healthy. By listening to and understanding what consumers want, leaders can help bring about a continual process of providing care that is smarter, more efficient and far more effective.