Merlo Offers Insights on the Impact of Chronic Disease

CVS Health's CEO describes the company's role in mitigating the impact of chronic disease.

The statistics tell a troubling story:

  • Chronic disease is the leading causes of death and disability in the United States: one in two American adults has at least one chronic condition.
  • Heart disease, stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity and arthritis are the most common, costly and preventable diseases.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Between now and 2030, the cumulative cost of chronic disease care is projected to be $42 trillion.Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease, 

What have we been missing when it comes to chronic illness, and how can we tackle the problem differently? CVS Health President and CEO Larry Merlo discussed these questions in his keynote address at the 2016 America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) Institute and Expo.

“I’m not going to offer a one-size-fits-all solution to these challenges, because there isn’t one,” said Merlo. “It’s going to require a multi-faceted, multi-stakeholder approach, and many different solutions.”

Merlo highlighted multiple opportunities to improve patient care and access  while also helping to lower overall health care costs:

Increasing Low-cost, Convenient Sites of Care

As Americans assume more financial responsibility for their care, there is heightened consumer demand for access to low-cost, convenient care. In addition to the traditional physician’s office setting, alternative sites, such as urgent care centers, retail clinics and in-home care are options that can help meet primary and preventive care needs and prevent unnecessary and costly visits to emergency departments.

Our 1,100 MinuteClinic locations treat common illnesses and minor injuries, and place a strong emphasis on wellness and prevention, offering help with issues like weight management and smoking cessation. In addition to being convenient, MinuteClinic services cost up to 80 percent less than alternative sites such as the emergency room.

“Our nurse practitioners are making a big difference,” said Merlo. “We often hear from patients who initially came in for a vaccination or an acute illness, and after seeing that we also offer weight-loss and or smoking-cessation programs, returned to make lasting changes in their lives.”

For the tens of thousands of Americans who require intravenous therapy, CVS Health provides in-home infusion care services offered by Coram. By providing in-home therapy for conditions including cystic fibrosis, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer, we can lower the cost of care while increasing convenience and comfort for the patient.

Technology Can Engage Patients and Improve Care Delivery

“Imagine a future in which you could have your child’s earache diagnosed by a physician, then have a prescription written, filled and delivered to your home in under two hours, all through your smartphone,” Merlo said. “There are regulatory issues to be worked out, but that scenario is not far off.”

This type of care, known as telehealth, could be a boon to those in rural areas who experience difficulty accessing affordable care. CVS Health is working with three telehealth companies to test different ways of using the technology – both through mobile devices as well as through MinuteClinic. In one MinuteClinic telehealth study, 95 percent of patients were highly satisfied with the experience. One-third even said they preferred it to a doctor visit.

Reimaging the Role of the Health Care Professional

As the physician shortage grows, Americans will increasingly rely on extended care teams, including pharmacists, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants. Pharmacists play an essential role, working closely with physicians, care teams and patients to drive the use of the highest-value drugs, ensure patients understand how to take them, support patients during care transitions, and intervene when prescriptions are not filled or problems arise.

Our Pharmacy Advisor program facilitates face-to-face and telephone counseling by our pharmacists to help participating members with chronic illnesses adhere to their prescribed medications and manage their conditions. The program has resulted in significant improvements in adherence, with fewer gaps in therapy.

Merlo concluded with a call to action for providers and payers alike. “Working together, we can reduce the impact of chronic illness and help millions of Americans on their path to better health. I cannot imagine a more exciting or fulfilling purpose than that.”