Are we on the cusp of a new disruptive era of clinical innovation?

At a recent meeting of physician leaders, we sat next to the head of the health system’s bariatric surgery program. Given the recent and rapid uptake of GLP-1 inhibitors like Ozempic and Wegovy, we asked how he thought these drugs, which can generate dramatic weight loss, would affect his practice.

He chuckled, “they’re really good drugs…they could put me out of business! 

It’s too early to say if they’ll be effective over a lifetime, but there’s no doubt they’re going to have a huge impact on our work.” It got us thinking about the other reverberations this class of drugs could have on care needs, if a majority of obese Americans had access to them.

Some effects are obvious.

We could see significant declines in treatment needs for chronic diseases like obesity and heart failure, for which obesity is a strong risk factor. Given that obese patients are much more likely to need joint replacement surgery, we could see a big hit to that demand—although some patients who are poor candidates for surgery because of weight-related complications could become eligible.

Even longer-term, if American’s aren’t dying of chronic disease, we’ll still die of something, so expect diseases of advanced age, like Alzheimer’s and many cancers, to increase. Other pharmaceutical innovations, like the growth of immunotherapy and more targeted cancer treatments, also have the potential to radically alter how disease is managed.

We may be at the beginning of another wave of disruptive medical innovation on the order of the introduction of statins in the 1990s, which combined with minimally invasive catheterization, slashed the need for bypass surgery.

Given their sky-high prices, it’s too soon to tell how quickly the use of these new obesity drugs will grow, but innovations like these will serve to pull more care out of hospitals and into less invasive outpatient medical management.  

CVS Health to launch a virtual-first primary care platform

The digital platform is designed to provide consumers with a coordinated healthcare experience across care settings. It’s being sold to Aetna’s fully insured and self-insured plan sponsors, as well as CVS Caremark clients, and is due to go live next year. According to CVS Health, the new offering “enables consumers to choose care when and where they want,” whether that’s virtually, in a retail setting (including at a MinuteClinic or HealthHUB), or through at-home services.

Patients will have access to primary care, on-demand care, medication management, chronic condition management, and mental health services, as well as help in identifying other in-network care providers. 

The Gist: CVS Health has been working to integrate its retail clinics, care delivery assets, and health insurance business. This new virtual-first care platform is aimed at coordinating care and experience across the portfolio, and streamlining how individuals access the range of services available to them.

CVS is not alone in focusing here: UnitedHealth Group, Cigna, and others have announced virtual-first health plans with a similar value proposition. Any payer or provider who aims to own the consumer relationship must field a similar digital care platform that streamlines and coordinates service offerings, lest they find themselves in a market where many patients turn first to CVS and other disruptors for their care needs.