CVS Health: improving healthcare for women
American healthcare company CVS Health is the world's seventh largest company by revenue, and as of March 2021 ranked at number 7 on the Fortune Global 500 list.
First established in 1963 under the name Consumer Value Store (CVS), it began primarily selling beauty products. Over the decades it has grown to operate a retail pharmacy chain, pharmacy benefits manager CVS Caremark, and acquired Aetna, a health insurance provider, among other brands.
The company also has a big focus on research and analytics, to help identify solutions that can reduce costs and improve outcomes. The organisation's latest research, the 2021 Health Care Insights Study, revealed clear differences in the way men and women engage in their healthcare. It found that women are more proactive with general medical check-ups than men, as more women cited this as a reason for visiting their practitioner (73% vs. 58%).
Dr Joanne Armstrong, Chief Medical Officer for Women's Health and Genomics, says one of the reasons for this is that women traditionally have greater involvement in the healthcare decision-making of their families. "This means they have heightened awareness about the healthcare system in general. This vital role as a consumer and purchaser of healthcare products and services likely contributes to why female healthcare consumers are more active and engaged with their own health than males."
The study also found that men are more likely than women to seek out virtual care (64% vs. 46%). "Males reported that having the option of virtual care when getting routine care for a minor illness or injury was more important than it was for female respondents. Women, on the other hand, are increasingly seeking individualised care, which aligns with their personal preferences, health concerns and needs" Armstrong explains.
"More women than men want their doctors to be aware of their lifestyle choices, specifically their use or non-use of alcohol, their level of happiness and life satisfaction, and lifestyle habits that could impact their health."
Armstrong highlights that the COVID-19 pandemic has also revealed differences in healthcare between genders. "Even though women often oversee the healthcare needs of their families, time and budget constraints can make it challenging for many women to practice self-care. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated this further, highlighting the need for better access, affordability and personalisation of care so that women can receive care when they need it, in the way they wish to receive it."
"COVID-19 vaccination is one specific area in which we see how the pandemic has impacted women’s health differently than men" Armstrong continues. "As pregnant women were not included in the original COVID-19 vaccine safety and efficacy trials, we had to wait for other sources of data on safety and effectiveness to emerge.
"This data is now available, and suggest that the benefits of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine outweigh any known or potential risks of vaccination during pregnancy, with no safety concerns for pregnant people who were vaccinated or their babies."
To ensure healthcare access is even, clinical trials must be more inclusive, as research is crucial. "How we approach clinical research is important because underrepresentation for all individuals, including women, minority communities and pregnant people, leaves wide gaps in what is known and understood about the female body. For example, 80% of drugs pulled from the market due to unacceptable health risks between 1997 and 2001 were discovered to be more harmful to women than to men.
"Ensuring an even playing ground for health care for both men and women starts with increased research and awareness. Women’s health is particularly complex and even more so when it comes to maternal health. That is why we must continue to focus on inclusivity in clinical trials.
"Another example that demonstrates the barriers women face is in the area of contraception care. One-third of women have major problems accessing contraception due to cost barriers or lack of insurance, difficulties obtaining an appointment or getting to a clinic, not having a regular doctor or clinic. When you don't have access to contraception, unexpected things happen, and those unexpected things change the life course for many women, with both medical and economic consequences.
"At CVS Health we are focused on increasing access to contraception and other women’s health services" Armstrong adds. "CVS pharmacists in 14 states can prescribe contraception right at the pharmacy counter and it's a service we would like to see allowed in every state. This is just one example that shows how increasing access, making healthcare simpler to engage in, and providing clinical touchpoints right within our communities can help women - and men - achieve their best health."