As health care evolves to become more consumer-centric, it’s crucial that providers and care advocates evolve with it. For the first time, we’re seeing a noticeable shift in the way providers care for patients, from providing mostly episodic acute care to being focused more on their patients’ health outcomes and overall well-being. While this is certainly a step in the right direction, I believe that transforming care delivery involves understanding patients more holistically and tailoring care to effectively meet their needs.
To explore how people are navigating health and experiencing care, Aetna, the company I work for, launched the Health Ambitions Study. This national survey explored consumers’ health goals and preferences, as well as the patient-doctor relationship in the evolving health landscape. The data show that when it comes to health, every person is unique. With the rise of mobile technologies, data analytics, and digital health tools, consumers are now in the driver’s seat of health care. What they’re telling us is that they want and need a personalized health care experience.
Personalization is especially true for women, who not only make decisions about their own health but also about their families’. Our study reveals that women are looking for more flexibility, clearer communication, and more coordinated care from their doctors. In fact, women feel it’s very important that their physicians explain test results (83 percent) and spend enough time with them (81 percent), more so than men (67 percent and 66 percent, respectively). It’s important that women feel supported and confident in the health decisions they make for themselves and others.
The Health Ambitions Study also found that consumers are seeking access to resources that improve both their physical and mental well-being. Close to two-thirds (60 percent) said that if given an extra hour in the day, they would spend it on mental and physical wellbeing activities. Mental health and stress reduction were particularly important, with 40 percent saying they have a stress reduction goal and 36 percent saying they have a mental health goal.
To reach these goals, consumers are looking for the right community and health resources. Right now, they’re turning to friends, family, and spouses for support: 49 percent of those with stress-related goals and 45 percent of those with mental health goals said that encouragement from friends and family would be helpful. Doctors play an equally critical role in the network of support. Not only are patients expecting their primary care physician to help them when they’re sick, but also to be aware of their health and lifestyle goals. For example, more than 80 percent of respondents said it’s very important that their physician be familiar with their mental health history and ability to manage stress.
As an advocate for holistic health, I’m encouraged to see consumers interested in working to meet their mental and physical health goals. They often go hand in hand, especially among consumers battling chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. These make up seven of the top 10 causes of death in the U.S.
An estimated — 60 percent of adults — have one or more chronic conditions. To combat them, addressing mental health goals in tandem with physical goals is essential.
In addition to improving patient outcomes, holistic health — bolstered by digital health platforms and real-time data analytics — is also key to lowering the rate of increase of mounting health care costs. An estimated 86 percent of the $2.7 trillion we spend in health care is related to chronic and mental health conditions.
It’s clear — and consumers are telling us — that we’re at a critical moment in the transformation of care. We have to listen if we are to achieve true transformation.
That starts by better understanding consumers’ personal health situations and developing holistic strategies to address their unique needs. One example of how Aetna is committed to recognizing and caring for the whole person is Aetna Community Care, a new program launched earlier this year. It provides local, in-person, personalized support by creating customized care plans to meet the individual health care needs of our members. Care managers and social workers known as “clinical quarterbacks” work with members, their providers, and community groups to develop action plans based on members’ health care and other goals. This community-centered, multidisciplinary approach helps our participating members overcome the everyday barriers to achieving their best health.
It’s important to realize that the transformation of health care is never over — it’s a journey. We all have more work to do to make sure we are meeting consumers where they are on their personal health journeys.
Transforming health care today — and for future generations — depends on doing that.
Karen S. Lynch is the president of Aetna.