Look, listen and stop

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Some 1.4 million people have attempted suicide. That these numbers count “attempted” suicides is testament to the power individuals possess to prevent suicide if they pay attention to the signs and take swift and appropriate action. When you’re educated, you’re empowered. It’s why Aetna offers several training opportunities to employees, members and communities.

Partnering with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), Aetna has made Talk Saves Lives, an instructor-led or online, self-paced training program, available to all CVS Health colleagues through its Employee Assistance Program (EAP). The digital version, which takes only about an hour to complete and has no need for prior knowledge or experience, is also available to Behavioral Health and Resources for Living members. The training enables learners to recognize signs of suicide ideation and engage in conversations with those appearing at risk or whom they are concerned about.

Many Aetna employees who interact with members as part of their jobs have been trained on a more intensive suicide prevention program called Mental Health First Aid. It’s an eight-hour, in-person course that teaches those enrolled how to spot the signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation and provides evidence-based approaches to intervening. On successful completion, attendees receive a certificate good for three years. In addition, Aetna customers who want to offer the course to their employees as part of their medical benefits can request that inclusion. The training is available virtually, so people can learn Mental Health First Aid from wherever they may be located. 

As adolescents and young adults are among the highest risk groups for suicide, Aetna is also partnering with AFSP and other industry experts to offer programs geared toward high school and college students. These programs focus on providing baseline information about the risk of suicide and how students can help their peers by paying attention to warning signs and knowing how to support each other in seeking help. 

Finally, Aetna is invested in finding solutions to bring targeted training programs to local communities accross the nation to increase awarenss and reach the goal of reducing suicide.

Young woman sitting at a computer with headphones taking an online course.
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Paying forward an uncle’s love

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“The day before my birthday in 2009, I was surprised to see a mail truck delivering a birthday card from my Uncle Billy that cost $15 in postage. I was stunned! The next day, he called me on my birthday, ending our conversation by saying he loved me. It was a little unusual that he would send that card and actually say he loved me, as he was a quiet person by nature. But I was turning 30 and nine months pregnant with my first child, so I didn’t really focus on his behavior.

The day after my birthday, my uncle died by suicide.

Tara and Uncle Billy celebrating their December birthdays together, 2003 looking at a birthday cake.
Tara and Uncle Billy celebrating their December birthdays together, 2003

My mom and aunt are both nurses, and, even so, our family didn’t completely recognize the sometimes subtle signs of suicidal ideation – like my uncle’s loss of interest in his favorite sports teams and not wanting to attend family holidays (he skipped Thanksgiving that year when my husband and I were hosting, mere weeks before his death). Uncle Billy was married, but he told his wife not to tell anyone of his struggle. That’s why I’m so dedicated to making sure people become familiar with those signs and know how to get help as well as the safest ways to intervene.

I joined the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) even though I wasn’t sure what to expect – would the walks and events feel hopeless? However, I found the engagement uplifting and moving, so I’ve stayed involved since 2013 with programs and events in my hometown in Connecticut. In 2018, we brought the first suicide prevention walk to the neighboring town of Niantic and we surpassed our fundraising goal. This summer, I was named to the board of the Connecticut chapter of AFSP, where I will use my personal social platform to continue illuminating the issue of suicide and work toward a series of successful virtual suicide prevention walks in October during COVID-19. It’s my way of telling Uncle Billy I love him, too.

Tara with her Aunt Margaret (Uncle Billy’s wife), 2019 Out of the Darkness Walk, Niantic, CT
Tara with her Aunt Margaret (Uncle Billy’s wife), 2019 Out of the Darkness Walk, Niantic, CT

Tara Autrey has worked for Aetna for over 12 years and is currently in Commercial Product Marketing. She writes occasionally about suicide, and you can read her article My uncle is so much more than a suicide statistic on The Mighty or follow her for mental health content on Twitter: @TaraA_79. She lives in Waterford, Connecticut.

Our commitment to suicide prevention

As one of the country’s leading health companies, CVS Health is committed to helping people on their path to better health. Part of that mission is and must be the reversal of our devastating suicide trends. To drive meaningful suicide prevention, everyone must play a role. As employers, health care providers and community members, we have a collective responsibility to do more to intervene at times those at risk of suicide are most vulnerable.

CVS Health is prioritizing suicide prevention as a strategic imperative, intervening with members and non-members during vulnerable times to offer a range of specially tailored, evidence-based resources and support. CVS Health will also continue to work with suicide prevention non-profits and industry experts such as the American Foundation for Suicide and Prevention (AFSP) to deliver suicide prevention training and expanded resources to Aetna members and the public. We commemorate Suicide Prevention Month knowing that that prevention and hope is possible for millions.

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Frank talk about suicide

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"Just asking if someone is OK could be life-saving."

When she was younger, Aimee Prange struggled with thoughts of suicide. Following multiple attempts to take her life, she is in a healthier place, having learned positive coping skills and — perhaps most critically — how to ask for help: “Recovery is absolutely possible,” she says.

Anyone can have suicidal thoughts, says Aimee, now a licensed social worker and manager with Aetna Behavioral Health. “People often have an image of what a suicidal person looks like or what that means for their life forever after. I’d like to be a part of changing that conversation. We have to talk about it.”

That’s why CVS Health is supporting National Suicide Prevention Month by expanding access to mental health and suicide prevention resources.

“The focus of the health care system should be on early identification and support,” says Cara McNulty, President of Aetna’s Behavioral Health unit and EAP. “We can address vulnerable populations, and we can reduce suicide attempts. Our message is: It’s preventable, and you're not alone. There is access to care, and you do not have to be in this much pain.”

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 34. And, according to Cara, adolescents are especially vulnerable to pandemic-related grief. “We need to help these young adults access that grief, and that's going to take time. Without that grieving process, we will continue to see adolescent suicide rise.”

Young people of color face multiple vulnerabilities, Cara adds. “There are specific populations of Black and brown communities where we need to focus our efforts, so we are providing support.”

During the pandemic, CVS Health’s virtual mental health visits have exponentially increased. The company’s multifaceted approach to suicide prevention includes the Talk Saves Lives training program and a safety intervention for suicide attempt survivors. 

“If someone is dealing with anxiety or depression or suicide ideation, it's hard. To then say, ‘I need help,’ is really, really hard,” says Cara. “It’s so important that we have the courage to have conversations that help people feel included and accepted and seek the help and care they need.”

Aimee agrees. “Don’t assume somebody else will reach out. You’ve got to be the one to show there are people that care. That one little thing — just asking someone if they're OK — could be lifesaving. Don't wait.”

If you are thinking about suicide or know someone who is, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255).

Warning signs of suicide risk:

  • Withdrawing from activities

  • Sleeping a lot or sleeping very little

  • Aggression

  • Giving away possessions

  • Talking about hopelessness or being a burden to others

  • Increase in alcohol/drug use

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Suicide rates are on the rise, how we’re working to reverse the trends

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While suicide rates have been increasing over the last 20 years, the COVID-19 pandemic is further threatening the mental well-being of all Americans. A CDC survey, conducted in June 2020, found that 11 percent of U.S. adults having seriously considered suicide 30 days prior to completing the survey. 

“To drive suicide prevention, everyone must play a role,” said Cara McNulty, President, Behavioral Health & EAP at CVS Health. “As employers, health care providers and community members – we have a collective responsibility to do more to intervene at times most vulnerable for those at-risk of suicide.”

CVS Health is committed to helping reverse the devastating suicide trends. We know it is our responsibility as a leading health company to use our voice to raise awareness of these rising rates and to expand our existing services to offer resources and support for Aetna members and the broader community.

Our commitment

Aetna Resources for Living

CVS Health has made Aetna’s Resources for Living (RFL) program available to everyone, whether or not they are covered in an Aetna insurance plan. RFL offers real-time phone support, informational content, community referrals and support for basic needs. Individuals who do not have RFL as an insurance plan benefit should call 1-833-327-AETNA (1-833-327-2386) (TTY:711) for assistance.

Improving clinical processes

We are continually evaluating Aetna’s clinical processes and addressing gaps that previously would have prevented care management teams from reaching members who may be suicidal.

  • Implementation of a new patient safety screener (PSS-3) tool for all members who speak to an Aetna Behavioral Health clinician by asking a series of questions about their mental well-being to help identify at-risk individuals and connect them with support and resources.

     

  • Continued offering of our safety planning template to help prevent future suicide attempts in members who have been recently discharged from the hospital.

  • Ongoing “touch base” contact postcards sent to members who were recently discharged from an inpatient stay following a suicide attempt with messaging to let them know that they are valued, their life is worth living, and that resources are available to them. Aetna is the only health insurer to send this type of communication to members.

  • Continued partnership with the American Foundation for Suicide and Prevention (AFSP) to offer their Talk Saves Lives online training program to help recognize the warning signs of suicide.

"Knowing the warning signs and how to intervene during the most vulnerable times is crucial to making a meaningful difference in suicide prevention,” said Dr. Christine Moutier, Chief Medical Officer, AFSP. “By partnering with CVS Health, we are bringing critical resources and awareness to suicide prevention."

Learn about how you can support someone who is considering suicide in this guide from AFSP.

If you are thinking about suicide, know someone who is or need to talk with someone, we encourage you to immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or text TALK to 741741 to connect with a trained Crisis Text Line counselor.

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From angry to action

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Kursten Cooper

She responded to a tragedy by educating and inspiring

“This winter will mark 12 years since my brother completed his suicide. Kurt was the youngest of the three kids in my family and the only boy. He had struggled with addiction, but always seemed full of life. His death at 27 came as a complete surprise to us.

For a long while, I was angry. With him, with myself, with everything. Then I found the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). It was good to be around people who had experienced what I had, but I was angry even with them because they all seemed to be in a better place than I was. One day, a woman called from AFSP and asked me to join the planning committee for the next fund-raising walk. I joined – and it was one of the best decisions ever! I was doing something. I even found myself going to Washington, D.C., and speaking with legislators in support of suicide prevention efforts focused on the Native American community, which has a high suicide rate.

I also helped manage a very successful golf tournament with a couple who had lost both their sons – one to war and the other to suicide. They found the reactions to the two losses were very different and set out to educate people about how all deaths deserve equal attention and sympathy. The Kurt Shriner Memorial Golf Tournament raised $35,000 in its first year and ended in 2018 by raising $65,000.

I keep working on suicide prevention because it really bothers me that, as a nation, we still treat physical illness differently from mental illness. Mental illness isn’t something you choose. It happens – like a broken leg or an infection. And you can’t snap your fingers and simply make it go away. Let’s stop being ashamed!

I’ve never gotten all the answers about my brother’s suicide. But I no longer hold the anger – just the sadness that he isn’t here. And I feel empowered, concentrating on helping people choose life. It’s what I do for Kurt.”

Kursten Cooper has been with Aetna for 13 years and focuses on providing digital support to multiple business stakeholders. She lives and works in North Dakota.

As one of the country’s leading health companies, CVS Health is committed to helping people on their path to better health. Part of that mission is and must be the reversal of our devastating suicide trends. To drive meaningful suicide prevention, everyone must play a role. As employers, health care providers and community members, we have a collective responsibility to do more to intervene at times those at risk of suicide are most vulnerable. 

CVS Health is prioritizing suicide prevention as a strategic imperative , intervening with members and non-members during vulnerable times to offer a range of specially tailored, evidence- based resources and support. CVS Health will also continue to partner with suicide prevention non-profits and industry experts such as the American Foundation for Suicide and Prevention (AFSP) to deliver suicide prevention training and expanded resources to Aetna members and the public.  We commemorate Suicide Prevention Month knowing that that prevention and hope is possible for millions. 

If you are thinking about suicide or are concerned about someone in your life being at risk, we encourage you to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to 741741.

Kursten Cooper
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Little sister

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When a family member steps up to face reality

“My sister is five years older than I and has long suffered with a mental health issue. At nine years old, she had her first episode of suicidal ideation – she would lock herself in the bathroom with kitchen knives. My family’s unhappiness and denial of her mental illness caused them to turn away from my sister. They ignored all the signs of self-harm and suicidal ideation. As the younger daughter, I tried to convince my family to take it seriously.

My sister became a mom at age 17. When her son (my nephew) was three years old, she had another episode—threatening to kill herself while the child was in her home with her. My sister was married by then and living 15 miles from me. I tried to get other family members to call for help. They were too ashamed. I finally drove to a pay phone (this was before cell phones, texting, etc.) and called 911. The state police responded, taking the knives away. My sister was admitted voluntarily to a psychiatric hospital for two weeks. My family did not call or visit her because she had “caused a scene.” For me, the trauma of that day was profound.

Even with treatment, over the next six to seven years my sister would struggle. Sometimes she would send me photos of pills and razor blades with notes that said simply, “good-bye.” By then I lived two hours away, and I spent hours trying to get her urgent help when providers would not talk to someone who did not have power of attorney and was not named on a HIPAA release form. My family still would not acknowledge my sister’s mental illness for fear of the stigma it would place on all of us.

As for my own life, I went into health care and built a career at Aetna. I’m based in Arizona. Knowing what my sister fought against, and the need for education and compassion toward those who contemplate, attempt and/or complete suicide, I decided to focus on mental health. At Aetna, we are working to ensure family and peer support for those struggling with suicide. We also communicate with providers to make sure they are educating patients on the importance of having a family member, friend or advocate listed on their HIPAA release form so health care professionals can communicate with them about the patient’s health care choices and best interests.

By now, you may be wondering how my sister’s story turned out. I’m so happy to tell you that she is today a proud grandma to four grandchildren, and has a healthy relationship with her son, who is now 31 years old. My sister faithfully takes her medications and is in therapy. She has not had an episode of suicidal ideation in several years.”

Erneshia Pinder is Program Director for CVS Health’s Strategic Diversity Management team, overseeing the execution of the enterprise’s nearly $600 million investment over five years to advance employee, community and public policy initiatives that address inequality faced by Black people and other disenfranchised communities. You can read more and follow her on LinkedIn.

As one of the country’s leading health companies, CVS Health is committed to helping people on their path to better health. Part of that mission is and must be the reversal of our devastating suicide trends. To drive meaningful suicide prevention, everyone must play a role. As employers, health care providers and community members, we have a collective responsibility to do more to intervene at times those at risk of suicide are most vulnerable. 

CVS Health is prioritizing suicide prevention as a strategic imperative, intervening with members and non-members during vulnerable times to offer a range of specially tailored, evidence- based resources and support. CVS Health will also continue to partner with suicide prevention non-profits and industry experts such as the American Foundation for Suicide and Prevention (AFSP) to deliver suicide prevention training and expanded resources to Aetna members and the public.  We commemorate Suicide Prevention Month knowing that that prevention and hope is possible for millions. 

If you are thinking about suicide or are concerned about someone in your life being at risk, we encourage you to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to 741741.

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We are committed to reducing the number of suicides

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If you are thinking about suicide, know someone who is, or need to talk with someone, we encourage you to immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255).

Suicide trends in the United States are staggering. The rate of suicide is now at its highest level since 1941Suicidology.org, and suicide is the second leading cause of death of those between the ages of 10 to 24.Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

Coupled with the isolating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the longstanding effects of systemic racism, the U.S. is facing a mental health crisis that must be addressed. CVS Health is taking multiple actions to do just that.

cvs heart

Facts about suicide:

1 in 4

The number of 18 to 24 year-olds having seriously considered suicide in the preceding 30 days, according to a June 2020 Centers for Disease Control (CDC) survey found that suicidal ideation is up among young people since last year.

Facts about suicide:

11% of adults

have seriously considered suicide in the preceding 30 days, an additional find by the the CDC survey which identifies that the mental health of the whole U.S population is deteriorating.

Facts about suicide:

24% increase

in the national suicide rate between 1999 and 2018 according to the CDC.

Facts about suicide:

132

the number of suicides per day, according to American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). For every suicide, there are an estimated 30 attempts (CDC).


Many factors in addition to mental health can contribute to suicidal behaviors such as relationship problems, physical health challenges, work related issues, along with access to lethal means. With the right intervention and support, resources and management of suicidal thoughts, suicide is known to be preventable. In fact, 90 percent of people who die by suicide have a potentially treatable mental health condition.

The time to act is now. 

As one of the country’s leading health companies, CVS Health is committed to helping people on their path to better health. Part of that mission is and must be the reversal of our devastating suicide trends.

As part of our commitment to flatten the ‘second curve’ of the escalating mental health crisis and increase access to affordable, quality care with a focus on social determinants of health, we are offering resources to support a variety of groups — young adults and college students, attempt survivors, Aetna members and CVS Health colleagues. These resources are outlined below. 


Ways to get help

To combat the rising rates of suicide and our alarming mental health crisis, CVS Health is offering a range of specially tailored resources and support for members and non-members in the month of September and beyond.

To drive meaningful suicide prevention, everyone must play a role. As employers, health care providers and community members — we have a collective responsibility to do more to intervene at times most vulnerable for those at-risk of suicide.


For everyone

Aetna’s signature Resources for Living® (RFL) program provides real-time confidential phone support, counseling sessions and learning tools to anyone in need, whether or not they’re covered in Aetna insurance plans. Individuals who do not have RFL as an insurance plan benefit should call 1-833-327-AETNA (1-833-327-2386) (TTY:711) for assistance. RFL resources include:

  • Emotional support

  • Resources for supporting basic needs including family meals, access to childcare and financial guidance

  • Community referrals

  • Access to informational resources

  • Management consultation for organizations

We’ve also enhanced our nationwide mental health programming effort with new charitable investments focused on health care workers, essential workers and seniors to flatten the “second curve” of the pandemic – the mental health crisis. For more information on CVS Health’s COVID-19 relief efforts related to mental and emotional well-being, visit cvshealth.com/secondcurve.


For our Aetna members

We are continually evaluating our clinical processes and addressing gaps that previously would have prevented care management teams from reaching members who may be suicidal. In collaboration with AFSP, we are facilitating access to suicide prevention screenings, as well as offering expanded resources and communications for at-risk members. These include:

  • patient safety screener (PSS-3) tool which includes a series of three questions about mental well-being is used for all members who speak to an Aetna Behavioral Health clinician, regardless of their risk-rating.

  • To prevent future suicide attempts, a safety planning template helps Aetna providers drive conversations with patients recently discharged from the hospital following an attempt. The guided outreach will help patients understand warning signs, identify coping strategies and connect with key people to call for support.

  • “Caring contact” postcards include messaging that expresses the recipient’s value and that their life is worth living. Postcards are sent to members, aged 18 and over, who are recently discharged from an inpatient stay following a suicide attempt. This method has shown a 50-65 percent reduction in suicide attempts. Aetna is the only health insurer to send suicide prevention targeted “touch base” contact postcards to members.

  • Aetna Resources For Living℠ (ARFL) provides confidential mental well-being support, counseling sessions, and learning tools. You can call us at 1-833-327-AETNA (1-833-327-2386) (TTY:711).

For CVS Health colleagues

Resources are also available to help CVS Health colleagues. The My EAP by ARFL program is available 24/7. Online tools include myStrength, which provides digital resources designed to help users navigate life circumstances including, depression, drug or alcohol recovery, chronic pain and sleep management.

  • 7 Cups, on-demand emotional health support services that makes mental health care accessible through community, trained volunteer listeners.

Lift the Mask – Portraits of Life with Mental Illness is a documentary developed by the Quell Foundation, chronicling individual mental health journeys with a goal of destigmatizing conversations about mental health. Watch the trailer to preview this powerful documentary.

In recognition of suicide prevention, Aetna, a CVS Health company, lit purple the cupola at its office headquarters in Hartford, CT on September 10, World Suicide Prevention Day.

In recognition of suicide prevention, Aetna, a CVS Health company, lit purple the cupola at its office headquarters in Hartford, CT on September 10, World Suicide Prevention Day.

Reaching out to those at risk 

Are you worried someone in your life may be struggling with their mental health or considering suicide? There are common warning signs to watch for in loved ones, friends and colleagues. They can stem from biological, psychological, social or environmental events. 

Know the suicide risk signs:

  • Increased use of alcohol and drugs

  • Searching online for suicide information or for ways to end life

  • Talking about harming oneself, burdening others, feeling trapped, hopelessness or in unbearable pain 

  • Giving away prized possessions

  • Delusions and hallucinations of reality 

  • Extreme mood changes such as excessive sadness, worry, aggression, fatigue, depression, anxiety, irritability, shame, or sudden improvement

  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits 

  • Withdrawal from social activities with friends and family or increased isolation

  • Problems concentrating or completing daily activities

  • An intense concern with appearance or fear of weight gain

  • Pattern of physical ailments without cause such as body aches and headaches

Early intervention is key, and recognizing the warning signs are helpful in suicide prevention. Plus, research shows that talking about suicide or suicidal thoughts does not increase the risk of someone committing suicide. So, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask the person what’s going on.

Learn more about how you can support someone who is considering suicide. And if you’re ready to have the talk, here’s a guide from AFSP on the best way to go about it.

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Helping members stay well, at home

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In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers and other benefit plan sponsors are searching for more ways to support members’ health. People are experiencing both physical and mental challenges as they cope with isolation, economic hardship, disruptions to normal work and school routines, and the virus itself.

CVS Health is making it easier for employers and health plans to meet these growing challenges with the expansion of our Point Solutions Management offering. This program enables plan sponsors to more efficiently administer apps, online trackers and other digital point solutions that support their members’ self-care routines at home.

“Digital point solutions can help people manage important wellness areas like mental wellbeing, fitness and weight loss from the safety and convenience of their own homes,” said Sree Chaguturu, MD, Chief Medical Officer at CVS Caremark. “Employers and other plan sponsors increasingly are looking for better ways to include these kinds of tools in their benefits packages — especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The recently added solutions have passed CVS Health’s rigorous vendor evaluation process to ensure that they support health outcomes while helping to reduce costs. The five new point solutions available to CVS Caremark clients through Point Solutions Management include:

  • Daylight: A fully automated and highly personalized mobile app to tackle worry and anxiety, based on cognitive behavioral techniques. 

  • Naturally Slim: An online program that uses informative videos and learning tools to teach individuals how to lose weight and improve their overall health.

  • Vida: A weight loss program with an app that pairs individuals one-on-one with a health coach, helping members achieve their health goals through phone and video conversations.

  • WW: Weight Watchers reimagined — A weight loss app providing access to food and fitness trackers, thousands of delicious recipes, and community support.

  • Kurbo: A digital program for children and teens ages 8 to 17 that teaches users how to make healthier choices and lifestyle changes through weekly video coaching, in-app chat, messaging, games, and educational videos.

These solutions join Hello Heart, Hinge Health, Sleepio, Torchlight, and Whil that are available to CVS Caremark clients through our Point Solutions Management program.

Point Solutions Management is a full-service offering that leverages the CVS Caremark pharmacy benefit management (PBM) infrastructure to help clients evaluate solutions, streamline vendor contracting, billing, eligibility verification and reporting. In total, ten solutions are now included as part of the program — addressing a broad range of health care concerns including chronic condition management, musculoskeletal health, stress reduction, mental health management, weight loss, and caregiver support.

This expansion is the latest in CVS Health’s ongoing innovation strategy, focused on meeting emerging client and member needs — while responding to acute concerns arising during the COVID-19 pandemic. We will continue to regularly evaluate and update the offering to include additional vendors that support improved outcomes and help lower costs across key areas of health, including fertility, financial wellness and the social determinants of health.

For plan sponsors interested in learning more about Point Solutions Management, please visit the Point Solutions Management page on our Payor Solutions website.

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Amidst a pandemic, consumers say they want accessible, affordable and technology-enabled health care, new CVS Health study finds

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Path to Better Health Study also reveals desire for digital health care solutions to support chronic care, mental health needs.

WOONSOCKET, R.I. — The American health care system is undergoing a period of rapid transformation. In recent months, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed new challenges and opportunities to accelerate advances in health care delivery, solve for systemic health inequities, dramatically improve care outcomes, and better meet consumer expectations for convenience and affordability.

With a global pandemic as the backdrop, CVS Health (NYSE:CVS) fielded the 2020 Path to Better Health Study, where consumers and providers were asked for their thoughts on the state of health care and how they are navigating this evolving landscape. While certain attitudes may have evolved as a result of COVID-19, the study reveals that consumers need more accessible, personalized and technology-driven health care than ever before and are seeking simplicity in the way they engage in their own health.

The use of technology and data analytics in health care is reaching new heights, and the pandemic is accelerating the adoption of digitally based solutions. Consumers are eagerly embracing tech, especially when it comes to communicating with their providers. Forty-eight percent said they would be more likely to communicate with health care professionals if they were able to do so through digital messaging (up from 41% in 2019), via telehealth (32%, up from 19% in 2019) and through virtual office visits such as Skype or FaceTime (29%, up from 20% in 2019). Additionally, 40% of consumers said they would be very likely to receive care for mental and behavioral health virtually.

"The pandemic has forced countless Americans to rethink their approach to health and explore different avenues of care," notes Larry Merlo, CEO of CVS Health. "Whether in the community, in the home or in the palm of their hand, people are discovering new ways to conveniently and affordably address their health care needs, including mental and behavioral health. We expect these changes will transform the way care is delivered moving forward."

The need to manage chronic conditions and mental health concerns is clearly top of mind for many consumers. A significant number of people indicated that members of their households are struggling with high blood pressure (41%), obesity (35%), mental illness (28%) and diabetes (17%).

Addressing mental health concerns is also of growing importance, especially among those aged 18 34 and 35 50, where social isolation is a top concern. For example, 44% of those aged 18 to 34 and 45% of those aged 35 to 50 indicated they no longer have a desire to be social, while only 29% of those aged 51 to 64 said the same. This resembles the 2019 findings, in which 48% of those 18 to 34 and 45% of those 35 to 50 reported they did not have a desire to be social, versus 35% of people aged 51 to 64.

The desire for accessibility is pushing people to explore new avenues of care. While a majority (62%) of consumers still go to their primary care physician (PCP) to treat a minor illness or injury, nearly one-third (31%) are likely to visit a non-emergency walk-in clinic. This is up from 2019, in which 59% of consumers reported going to their PCP for a minor illness or injury, while 28% said they would visit a non-emergency walk-in clinic. Digital solutions such as telemedicine are also growing in popularity with both patients and providers.

Most consumers (92%) said it is very or somewhat important that health care be convenient a factor that has only become more critical as a result of COVID-19.

About one-third (35%) of people said health care costs are an obstacle to staying healthy, and close to half (49%) have not visited a doctor when they had a minor illness or injury due to cost. Despite cost emerging as a top barrier to care, it is not often a topic of discussion between patients and health care providers. Two-thirds of patients (66%) said their PCP and other health care providers had not asked about the "affordability" of health care and/or discussed resources to assist with these costs, up slightly from 64% in the 2019 Path to Better Health Study.

Other highlights from the study include:

  • Health care providers are increasingly turning to digital tools and technologies to care for and connect with their patients. Telemedicine is of particular interest, with 40% of providers saying it is very valuable for communicating with patients, up from 22% in the 2019 study. The future outlook for incorporating predictive analytics or artificial intelligence into provider practices also looks strong, with more than one-third (39%) indicating they already have or are very or somewhat likely to integrate these technologies into their practices within the next several years.

  • Providers are expressing the need for additional support for important community resources, but access is improving. For example, many providers said they have fair or poor access to substance abuse counselors (56%) and mental health counselors (50%), down from 63% and 55% in our 2019 study, respectively.

  • Many providers are experiencing burnout symptoms. Three-fourths (75%) of all providers said they feel burned out very frequently, frequently or sometimes. About one-quarter (27%) said the main cause of burnout is time spent documenting care/electronic record systems, followed by administrative/management requirements/paperwork (25%).

Read the full study.

About the study

The Path to Better Health Study by CVS Health, first released in 2018 and called the Health Ambitions Study, was conducted in March 2020 and included two surveys fielded by Market Measurement, a national market research consulting firm. The consumer survey comprised 1,000 participants 18 and older, located throughout the U.S. It also oversampled 12 metropolitan statistical areas Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Cleveland, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Providence, Hartford, San Francisco, Tampa and among two ethnic groups: African American and Hispanic people. The survey of 400 providers focused on primary care physicians and specialists with at least two years' experience, as well as nurse practitioners, physician assistants and pharmacists.

About CVS Health

CVS Health employees are united around a common goal of becoming the most consumer-centric health company. We're evolving based on changing consumer needs and meeting people where they are, whether that's in the community at one of our nearly 10,000 local touchpoints, in the home, or in the palm of their hand. Our newest offerings from HealthHUB locations that are redefining what a pharmacy can be, to innovative programs that help manage chronic conditions are designed to create a higher-quality, simpler and more affordable experience. Learn more about how we're transforming health at www.cvshealth.com.

Contacts

Kathleen Biesecker
bieseckerk@aetna.com
703-472-8466

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Path to Better Health Study 2020

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CVS Health’s 2020 Path to Better Health Study finds that consumers are seeking a more accessible, affordable and technology-enabled health care experience than ever before. 

The American health care system is undergoing a time of accelerated innovation and transformation. Consumer expectations for convenient and personalized health care support, coupled with the exploding use of technology and data analytics, are just several trends driving critical change. The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic has also provided an opportunity to further advance health care delivery and utilization to better meet the needs of our patients, our customers and our communities.

According to our 2020 Path to Better Health Study, now in its third year, consumers and providers are hungry for this care transformation and want health solutions that meet them where they are — in store, in home and in hand.

cvs heart

40%

of consumers said they would be very likely to receive care for mental and behavioral health virtually.

71%

of consumers indicated they were greatly concerned with treating chronic illness due to cost. 

81%

of providers reported that they always, often or sometimes recommend that their patients establish health goals during routine office visits.

Importance of accessibility and affordability

Delivering accessible, high-quality care at any time is a key health care priority — and has become even more significant during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to our study, consumers agree, with 92% indicating that it was very or somewhat important that health care be convenient. 

We found that people’s desire for accessibility is pushing them to explore new avenues of care. While a majority of consumers still go to their primary care physician (PCP) to treat a minor illness or injury, nearly one-third of consumers are likely to visit a non-emergency walk-in clinic.

Consumers are receiving routine support for minor illnesses or injuries at several sites of care: 62% report visiting their primary care physician; 31% report using emergency walk-in clinics; 18% report visiting a hospital emergency room; and 15% report visiting community health clinics.

“Consumers are demanding convenience and ease in how they access health services. Technological solutions have the power to simplify health care and significantly expand the ways we deliver it,” said Larry Merlo, CEO of CVS Health, adding that COVID-19 has provided an unprecedented opportunity to accelerate transformation and drive lasting and systemic change in the American health care system. “Our growing local presence and expansion of virtual care, telemedicine, and other omnichannel programs will be critical to meeting the health needs of our members and customers, both during and after the pandemic.”

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Affordability is also top-of-mind for consumers. About one-third (35%) of people said health care costs are an obstacle to staying healthy, while close to half (49%) have not visited a doctor when they had a minor illness or injury due to cost, suggesting that consumers could use additional support in this area.

Increasing appetite for technology-enabled care

The use of technology across the health care continuum has been rising at a rapid rate. As a result of COVID-19, the pace of technological transformation will only quicken and greatly influence the future of care delivery.

The use of digital tools to facilitate communication between patients and providers is on the rise. Digital messaging among consumers is up 7% from 2019 with an overall usage of 48%. Among providers, digital messaging is down 2% from 2019 but overall usage is at 36%. Telehealth services, have shown a 14% increases among consumers, with a 32% overall usage rate. Among providers, usage of telehealth services increased 18% with a 40% usage overall.

Our study shows that people want to use technology to enhance communication with their health care providers, by adopting tools like digital messaging, telemedicine and virtual office visits. Among providers, their use of digital technologies to care for and connect with patients is also expanding. Telehealth is of particular interest, with 40% of providers saying it is very valuable for communicating with patients, up from 22% in our 2019 study.

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Our Path to Better Health Study also found that:

  • Mental health is of critical concern for consumers, especially among those aged 18 to 34 and 35 to 50, with the issue of social isolation being a top concern.
  • Consumers, as well as their friends, family and other household members, are struggling with chronic conditions, including high blood pressure, obesity, mental illness and diabetes. 
  • Health care providers still need more support in accessing important community-based resources, such as nutritionists and social workers, but this access is improving. 
  • Many providers are experiencing burnout symptoms at least some of the time. 
  • Awareness of and involvement in value-based care models is growing.
A woman sits at a dining room table eating a salad and a piece of bread while quietly smiling and reading a tablet computer.

Methodology 

The Path to Better Health Study by CVS Health, first released in 2018 and called the Health Ambitions Study, was conducted in March 2020 and included two surveys fielded by Market Measurement, a national market research consulting firm. The consumer survey comprised 1,000 participants 18 and older, located throughout the U.S. It also oversampled 12 metropolitan statistical areas — Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Cleveland, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Providence, Hartford, San Francisco, Tampa and among two ethnic groups: African Americans and Hispanics. The survey of 400 providers focused on primary care physicians and specialists with at least two years’ experience, as well as nurse practitioners, physician assistants and pharmacists.

A woman in gray athletic clothes stretches and practices yoga poses in a very light and bright room. The photo is set inside of a CVS Health® heart on a red background.
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