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CVS Health collaboration seeks to address patients’ social determinants of health


The program is the latest effort by the newly merged CVS and Aetna to expand beyond retail pharmacy and insurance products and into patient healthcare services.

CVS Health has announced a series of programs to encourage at-risk patients to live a healthier lifestyle.


The program includes a $100 million investment to increase access to healthcare services in underserved communities, and a collaboration with an organization called Unite Us, a social care coordination platform, that will allow patients with Aetna insurance to more easily access social services in their communities, according to a company news release.  


It’s the latest effort by the newly merged CVS and Aetna to expand beyond retail pharmacy and insurance products and into patient healthcare services.


The goal of the program is to better address social determinants of health (SDH). After

a patient visits a physician, they leave with health advice specifically tailored to their needs. However, it’s sometimes difficult for patients to follow physician’s orders due to SDH such as food insecurity, poverty, mental illness and other challenges. These factors can have a negative effect on patient health outcomes.


"It's hard to focus on your health when you are worried about your housing situation. Research has shown that providing safe and secure housing options can help improve health outcomes, particularly for individuals with chronic health conditions," said Garth Graham, MD, the president of Aetna Foundation, in a CVS news release.


SDH also hit employers hard with higher healthcare costs. “In addition to being a community health issue, an inability to address social determinants of health can also result in higher health care costs and reduced worker productivity for employers, particularly businesses with a significant number of low-wage workers,” the news release reads.


To help combat these risks, Aetna has developed software that will calculate the probable impact SDH will have on health insurance. The first version of the software has already been released, and the second version is expected in early 2020.

"Out of about 6,000 waking hours in a year, most people only spend a handful in a doctor's office or hospital you spend the vast majority of your time in your community," said Karen S. Lynch, executive vice president of CVS Health and president of Aetna, in a news release. "CVS Health is a part of nearly 10,000 communities across the country…and we have an unprecedented opportunity to improve the health of individuals and communities across America.”


Addressing SDH is one of the major challenges facing physicians, who often are not able to impact the lives of patients beyond the exam room. But many practices are creating programs to help. For example, at one family practice in Columbus, Ohio, 43 percent of patients struggled with getting healthy foods. In response, the practice set up a food bank and began teaching lessons on topics like portion control. 

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© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health