For low-income populations, access to quality healthcare is frequently out of reach. CVS and Aetna are offering a solution by connecting patients with social care networks in their communities.
Social determinants of health (SDoH) is relatively new term in the healthcare industry, but major healthcare providers are beginning to incorporate it into their approach to treatment. SDoH refers to the conditions in which people grow, live, work, and age that are shaped by the distribution of resources at all levels. In short, it means the quality of life someone has is, to a certain extent, determined by their surroundings and socio-economic status. For example, people who live in food deserts are at higher risk for diabetes and hypertension because it’s more difficult for them to access healthy food options.
Similarly, SDoH directly affect access to medical care. More than 60 percent of the uninsured come from low-income families and, as a result, have no primary care physician. Pharmacies and healthcare providers like CVS have noticed this phenomenon and seized the opportunity to improve accessibility, reduce costs, and advance overall care.
CVS Unveils New Plan To Launch Social Care Network
CVS recently released a plan to launch a new social care platform that will connect vulnerable patient populations with social care providers in their communities. Patients on Medicaid and dual-eligible beneficiaries covered by Aetna will be referred to the program by a community health provider or Aetna nurse case manager.
This plan has the potential to reach millions of people across the country; 75 percent of the population lives within four miles of a CVS, and Aetna insures over two million beneficiaries across sixteen states through Medicaid. The network will be available to Aetna members in Louisville, Kentucky, south-eastern Louisiana, and Tampa, Florida later this year.
The network will likely be folded into existing CVS Health retail sites and HealthHUB models. These sites could serve as distribution centers where members can meet with local case managers, access supporting housing services, and meet their community health providers.
The specific services CVS provides will be dependent on local needs. “All health is local, so each community has its own set of challenges,” Dr. Garth Graham, VP of Community Health and Impact at CVS Health, noted. CVS and Aetna will measure the success of the platform by analyzing metrics like member satisfaction, usage rates, and the impact on community-based organizations.
This platform is only a small part of CVS’ broader “Building Healthier Communities” initiative. Announced in January of this year, CVS pledged a $100 million commitment to meaningful investments in community healthcare. Over the next five years, the initiative’s efforts will improve local access to affordable healthcare through Project Health, combat public health challenges like opioid abuse, and partner with local communities. In addition to providing grant money to over 100 free clinics, CVS will also invest more than $50 million in building affordable housing throughout the country.
Low-Income Populations At The Center of Holistic Digital Health
CVS’ approach shows that holistic, preventative, and connected health efforts are not out of reach for low-income communities. In fact, nobody stands to benefit more from these efforts than patients in those spaces.
The science behind SDoH is remarkably similar to the philosophy behind holistic health, which asserts that a full picture of someone’s health includes their mind, body, spirit, and emotions. Therefore, people in low-income communities need an approach to care that takes their surroundings into account.
Bringing quality healthcare to vulnerable populations also plays a role in tackling preventative treatment. Low-income patients are less likely to have a primary care physician, making them less likely to receive standard preventative health measures like cholesterol testing or annual mammograms. In some cases, free clinics and medical services provided in pharmacies become de facto doctor’s offices. Investing in these services and equipping them with better resources is a critical intervention for vulnerable patients.
The growing field of digital health is also helping to expand healthcare services in disadvantaged communities. The Federal Communications Commission recently invested $100 million in the three-year Connected Care Pilot Program, which offers a steep discount on broadband internet services to telehealth providers.
This program would specifically target low-income patients who have limited access to health services, including veterans and residents of rural areas. When the nearest medical center is inconvenient or out of reach, being able to digitally connect with a physician can make all the difference in someone’s life.
Still, medical marketers should be aware that innovations like these may pose a challenge to smaller primary care practices. To keep up with the competition, small practices should work on building their digital capabilities and increasing accessibility to a wide range of customers. From a user-friendly website to a robust social media presence, healthcare providers that can combine a tech-savvy approach with personalized care consistently come out on top.