More than 20 million Americans gained access to health insurance in the years since the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA, commonly known as Obamacare). While more Americans are insured now than ever before, many people receiving coverage under ACA may have only visited a doctor a few times in their lives. And, more importantly, some don’t know enough about wellness to ask the right questions and take the right steps to improve their health.
How can we educate newly-insured patients and help them advocate for their own health? And how can patient education help ensure greater access to healthcare translates into a real reduction in preventable illnesses? 3p spoke with Eileen Howard Boone, SVP of corporate social responsibility and philanthropy at CVS Health and president of the CVS Health Foundation, to answer these questions and find out how the company is working to educate patients.
TriplePundit: CVS Health takes an active role in improving access to healthcare in tandem with patient education. Can you give us a rundown of your 'Prescription for a Better World' to get things started?
Eileen Howard Boone: Our [corporate social responsibility (CSR)] strategy, “Prescription for a Better World,” ties directly to our company purpose of helping people on their path to better health. Even though millions of Americans are newly insured, we know there continue to be people who lack access to quality healthcare.
We are living in a time in which our aging population requires more services; we have a national epidemic of obesity; and diabetes and other chronic illnesses continue to stress our healthcare system. That’s why one of the key strategies of fulfilling our purpose is through bringing quality healthcare that is affordable and accessible to the communities that we serve.
3p: CVS Health continues to expand its MinuteClinic program, and you reported more than 5 million patient visits last year with 85 new locations added. Can you explain how resources like MinuteClinics can improve healthcare access and patient education in underserved populations?
EHB: By creating a healthcare delivery model that responds to patient demand, MinuteClinic makes access to low-cost, high-quality primary care easier for more Americans, including underserved populations.
MinuteClinic helps to fill the gap in the healthcare system by providing additional, affordable access for patients between visits to their primary care physician and keeping them away from unnecessary and costly emergency room visits. With most services beginning at $89, we deliver preventive check-ups, immunizations, and other basic healthcare services at our more than 1,100 MinuteClinic locations at an affordable cost.
3p: Does CVS Health plan to continue expanding MinuteClinics in the U.S.? Have you set any specific targets?
EHB: MinuteClinic is a key component of our commitment to deliver accessible and affordable healthcare. We have a robust plan for continued national expansion over the next several years, and we are continuing to uncover exciting opportunities in retail medicine that will fuel growth, such as exploring the delivery of care through tele-health. This year, we are focusing on integrating our newly acquired clinics in Target stores.
3p: According to your CSR report, you're looking to expand technology-driven services via tele-health. Can you tell us more about this?
EHB: With the increased demand for patient care anticipated in future years as a result of the expansion of coverage through the Affordable Care Act, the primary care physician shortage, aging of the population and epidemic of chronic disease, tele-health gives us the opportunity to extend the reach of our MinuteClinic offerings to an expanded group of patients in a variety of convenient and cost-effective locations. We’re currently piloting several different tele-health opportunities for patients in our clinics, store locations and at home, which help improve access to low-cost quality care.
3p: Can you tell us about your Project Health programs in underserved communities, and how increasing access to health screenings and preventative care can help underserved populations increase health and wellbeing?
EHB: Despite the increased number of Americans who have become insured over the past five years, we know that barriers to receiving quality care, such as cost and access, exist for many patients. Project Health helps to relieve this pressure with over 500 events that are open to everyone, regardless of their insurance status, race or gender. Now in its 11th year, Project Health has delivered more than $112 million worth of free healthcare to predominantly Hispanic and African American communities, many of whom are uninsured or underinsured.
Patients receive an array of free comprehensive health risk assessments, including blood pressure, Body Mass Index (BMI), glucose and total cholesterol screenings, as well as on-site consultations with nurse practitioners or physician assistants who will analyze results and refer patients who require additional medical attention to no-cost or low-cost medical facilities nearby or to their primary care physician.
By increasing access to vital preventive care through Project Health events, we are not only helping patients identify chronic conditions they may be at risk for, but we are also arming them with the tools they need to take charge of their health and ultimately lead healthier lives.
When it comes to health issues like chronic disease management, patient education is vital not only for the patients' well-being, but also for economic reasons. Healthcare costs soar when individuals don't have the information to effectively manage their health issues, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
3p: How can increased education and outreach to the underserved help people take control of their own health and manage it effectively?
EHB: In addition to helping underserved populations through Project Health, we’re also reaching this sector of patients through our partnerships with the National Association of Community Health Centers and National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics. For the past several years, the CVS Health Foundation has supported free clinics and community health centers nationwide to increase access, improve health outcomes and lower overall health costs across the country through increased patient education and chronic disease management programs.
By increasing access to quality care for the underserved populations, patients become more aware of their overall health and the resources available to them to properly take care of themselves and manage their conditions, which can ultimately lower healthcare costs across the county.
Image credit: Flickr/Jasleen Kaur