CVS Health (NYSE: CVS) has allotted ample resources toward home- and community-based care over the past year. It has done so for several reasons, CVS Health leaders point out.
For one, investing in home-based care makes it easier for patients to access necessary services during the public health emergency. But CVS Health’s focus on the home is likely to last long after the pandemic has subsided.
In April, CVS Health partnered with UCLA Health to enhance its in-home capabilities related to home infusion services. In January, it then partnered with the Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) to offer in-home chemotherapy to cancer patients.
“Our transformation over the last decade has enabled us to become the nation’s leading diversified health services company,” Karen Lynch, the president and CEO of CVS Health, said on the company’s Q4 earnings call on Tuesday. “Our presence in communities across the country allows us to meet consumers where they are and become a bigger part of their everyday health.”
Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, CVS had just dipped its proverbial toes in the water of home-focused senior care.
In 2019, for instance, it launched an in-home dialysis pilot program. In 2018, it strove to make its MinuteClinics more accessible to seniors.
The company’s in-home dialysis program has now become a major talking point for the company of late.
“We are bringing dialysis services into the home to better manage chronic kidney disease,” Lynch said. “This program offers a simpler, more patient-centered approach. It delays the onset of end-stage renal disease, reduces hospital admissions and supports people with treatment options.”
Broadly, the $69 billion merger with the health insurer Aetna in late 2018 signaled a shift in the CVS Health’s strategy. Although COVID-19 was an accelerator for its home-based care initiatives, the Aetna merger created a health care giant while firmly integrating a home- and community-based focus into the company’s plans.
Once Aetna was on board, CVS locations began adding more health services at their MinuteClinics, enabling them to manage patients throughout their care journeys — even with at-home care plans.
On its end, Aetna has partnered with popular “family-on-demand” startup Papa, which sends “Papa Pals” into seniors’ homes to help with social isolation, household needs and technology help, among other challenges.
Aetna’s benefits have reflected its home-based care aspirations as well.
“I think in the broadest sense, this should all be seen through the lens of helping our members age and thrive in place,” Dr. Robert Mirsky, Aetna’s CMO at the time, told Home Health Care News in 2019 about the health plan’s expanded benefits. “This means providing all of the support, whether it’s medical, behavioral or social determinants of health so people can live in the least restrictive and most home-like setting possible.”
CVS Health’s ‘Symphony’
Most recently, CVS Health partnered with Aloe Care to launch “Symphony,” a medical-alert system that is designed to keep seniors safe and connected at home.
Symphony is a collection of in-home and wearable devices that are available in around 650 CVS stores and online. Its differentiator is that it includes a voice-activated smart hub that lets seniors call assigned caregivers or emergency responders hands-free throughout the day.
Sensors placed around the house can monitor motion, temperature and air quality, then alert caregivers of any abnormalities through an app.
It’s not a new idea, but it’s an advancement of an old one. And it will help CVS Health continue to support seniors in their homes, Adam Pellegrini, the SVP of enterprise virtual care and consumer health at CVS Health, told HHCN.
“CVS and other retail pharmacies have actually carried these types of systems for many years,” Pellegrini said. “What we did look at was, across the three different businesses we have, what were we doing in that space for seniors that can go beyond that specific use case of an emergency alert when someone falls?”
Pellegrini ran Fitbit’s health care business and was also the VP of digital health at Walgreens before joining CVS Health in 2019.
Before teaming up with Aloe Care, CVS Health conducted an extensive request for proposals (RFP), Pellegrini said.
“It was a methodical process,” he said. “But again, it was looking into the future of what we want to do, not just replacing something that we currently do.”
CVS already sells over 350,000 connected devices in its stores every year, but the devices are not necessarily interconnected. Its vision is to connect all devices to what Pellegrini calls a “home health hub.”
Creating that sort of connectivity in the home would address social determinants of health and prevent falls, one of the top reasons for hospitalizations among seniors.
Overall, CVS Health sees Symphony as an extender of its health care plans, which includes working with patients in the home more frequently.
Home-based care partnerships
Right now, CVS Health is still in the beginning phases of its home-centric approach.
But the company wants to explore all avenues with Symphony and its other home-based care endeavors. That includes working with home health and home care agencies in the future.
“We’re open to all those types of discussions, for sure,” Pellegrini said. “Right now, we’re just really getting user feedback, looking at all the different ways that we can work with our partners. The idea here is to keep seniors safe in the home. … I think COVID has accelerated some of our original thinking.”
Aetna has been putting a lot of energy into addressing social determinants of health on its end over the last couple of years.
CVS is now hoping to spearhead some of those logistical challenges in the home with its growing capacity to provide care outside its own walls.
“You can almost imagine how the future of these home health hubs for seniors really integrates with mechanisms that address social determinants of health,” Pellegrini said. “With Symphony, the caregiver can monitor the loved one from anywhere around the world, really. So you can imagine extended care teams also getting keyed into resources as well to really address social determinants of health.”