The Week That Was team is a chatty bunch and we can get off topic easily. This week’s tangent during a meeting: the first cars we “owned.” Or, more accurately, the old cars our grandparents let us use.

Eric Laub’s was a ’68 Volkswagon Squareback.

Miriam Kalnicki drove a Mercury Sable station wagon (with a third seat) up the hilly streets of Squirrel Hill, PA.

Meg Alexander’s was a White Buick Park Avenue.

And I cruised around Baltimore in an army-green, soft-top Cadillac Eldorado.

Life is a journey, and so was this week in healthcare headlines. Happy reading.



 The menstrual period tracking app Dot made headlines with a new study that cites a 95-99% efficacy rate, when used as a birth control method. In the world of birth control, 99% is pretty darn good, suggesting the app could be on par with some of the “gold-standard” methods like an implanted, hormonal IUD. But it’s unlikely to be an easy path ahead for Dot. With new data and claims, apps like Dot are facing increased scrutiny over how they should be reviewed by the FDA, what “responsible” looks like when it comes to data collection and how they could fit into a payer reimbursement model. No rest for the ovulating innovative.


 E-cig giant Juul may have lost their #1 adversary Scott Gottlieb, but they shouldn’t let out a [smoke filled] sigh of relief just yet. This week, CVS announced they’re upping their anti-tobacco efforts, partnering with 82 colleges across the country to help them become 100% smoke or tobacco free. The initiative, Smart Campuses Quit, relies on education, healthy behavior programming, and policy development at the campus level, and is backed by $1.4 million in new giving from CVS. That’s a whole lot of ExtraBucks®.


 “Everyone else was doing it…” No, this is not just the refrain we told our parents in high school, rather it is seemingly what app developers were saying about data collection. A new BMJ study provides a window into the data collection and sharing practices of healthcare apps, and it’s a doozy. A whopping 79% of sampled apps shared user data externally, with data often making its way into the hands of “fourth parties.”


 New York’s Hottest Club is…The Chicken Pox Party. But instead of SNL’s Stefon attending, it’s Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, and instead of NYC, this is happening at Bevin’s neighbor’s house in Kentucky. What in the world are we talking about? A radio interview with Bevin, in which he explained how he chose not to vaccinate his 9 children and instead deliberately exposed them to chicken pox. Kentucky state law requires parents to vaccinate their children. For the record, Bevin says his kids were “miserable” but “turned out fine.”


 The NYT reported on an unlikely challenge to President Trump’s revised NAFTA policy: the intellectual property provisions surrounding biologics. House Democrats are objecting to the provision – which gives biologics 10 years of protection – and “saying that enshrining the time period in a trade agreement could thwart their future efforts to lower health care costs through legislative changes… [and] hinder development of generic drugs.” Reminder: the Obama administration faced a similar issue for the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, which ultimately never passed.


 Are employers the sleeping giants of the healthcare system?

When we think about the audience for communications or certain strategies for programming, we talk a lot about the healthcare system “stakeholders”: patients, advocates, doctors, insurers, PBMs and policymakers. Employers, however, don’t often get a specific callout.

But a new 5-part series from Harvard Business Review has us thinking about the impact employers have on the care patients get, and the missed opportunity of seeing employers as core customers. A quick look at the landscape: 

  • Massive responsibility: Employers insure 49% of Americans. Compare that to public government programs like Medicare and Medicaid, which cover 35%.
  • Bills to pay: From 2007 to 2016, employer healthcare spending per enrollee increased by 44%, rising to an annual total of $700 billion in 2017.
  • 99 problems but variation ain’t one: A huge variation in costs across providers and geographic regions (remember our recap on hospital costs?) makes it difficult for employers to forecast budget and ensure consistent, high-quality care for their employees.

So it should come as no surprise that employers are considering innovative solutions to cut costs and provide better benefits.

Companies like Lowe’s, McKesson, GE and Boeing are trying their hand at new programming. Two leading programming strategies, according to HBR include: 

  • Centers of excellence (COE) – “employers tap into a purchaser coalition that helps them identify best-in-class providers and create bundled-care contracts for a defined episode of care.”
  • Accountable care organization (ACO) – While people typically think of ACOs in relation to Medicare, more employers are aligning with them “to craft coverage that may pay a set amount per associate for a given period and that usually links reimbursement to the provider’s performance on quality and cost metrics.”

Another approach – pioneered by Comcast – is to contract with a “portfolio” of companies to provide a diverse set of benefits to employees.

When building these programs and identifying potential partners, most employers consider some core criteria: the potential for evidence-based care, patient-centered teams, existing data that reflects the quality of care and of course, the potential for low, “bundled” prices.

What does that look like in action? Going to Walmart for your spine surgery.

When built well, these programs benefit not only the employers, but theoretically providers and patients as well. Walmart, which provides coverage to over 1 million workers and their families, has both COE and ACO initiatives, and has seen impressive outcomes across a number of disease states. For example:

Spinal surgery: By providing early, expert care, Walmart has saved costs on hospital readmission and follow-up needs for spinal patient post-surgical care. 

Joint replacement: Employees that were treated at COEs are back on the job faster. 

Bariatric surgery: They saved money on long-term costs. 

Our take:

In a competitive job market, in which employees are demonstrating an ever-growing appetite for employer transparency and action on core values, “good” healthcare benefits aren’t just a nice-to-have. Employers must take a step back and evaluate what makes sense for their employees and their budget, and ask “could we be doing more to provide efficient, high-quality care for our employees at the best possible price?”

Meanwhile, drug makers must consider employers a core customer group, and watch how they are evolving their benefits and cost controls, and responding to new rebate reform proposals. And the next time you and your team are discussing access solutions, consider the potential role employers could play in innovative contracting or the value of some direct to employer communications.

Who wrote this? The managing editors of TWTW are Dana Davis, who really wants someone to throw her a CVS-themed birthday party, and Randi Kahn, who is more of a Duane Reade kind of girl. 

Syneos Health Communications' Reputation & Risk Management Practice is a team of healthcare communications consultants, policy-shapers and crisis response specialists. We provide unique solutions to the evolving communications challenges in today’s healthcare industry, using evidence-based approaches to help our clients successfully navigate the most sensitive of situations.

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Image credits: No Smoking by Sergey Demushkin from the Noun Project, Big data by BomSymbols from the Noun Project, Dance Party by Andrew Doane from the Noun Project

And now please enjoy this disclaimer that prevents our team from getting in a heap of trouble: This report may contain links to external or third party websites. These links are provided solely for your convenience. Links taken to other sites are done so at your own risk and Syneos Health accepts no liability for any linked sites or their content. Syneos Health makes no warranties or representations, express or implied about such linked websites, the third parties they are owned and operated by, the information contained on them or the suitability or quality of any of their products or services. Syneos Health does not authorize the infringement of any intellectual property rights contained in material offered through these linked sites. Please refer to the use agreement and/or copyright statements of any external site you visit, or the terms and conditions of any externally provided web site for instructions, restrictions, and guidelines. If you have a question, please contact the webmaster of the external site.

About the Author:

Dana Davis is a strategist in the Reputation & Risk Management Practice, where she helps biopharma clients communicate the value they bring to their stakeholders. Her expertise lies in issues of corporate activism; advising companies that must respond to activist tactics from patients, employees, or investors, as well as companies looking to take a proactive stance on social issues.

Syneos Health Communications' Reputation & Risk Management Practice is a team of healthcare communications consultants, policy-shapers and crisis response specialists. We provide unique solutions to the evolving communications challenges in today’s healthcare industry, using evidence-based approaches to help our clients successfully navigate the most sensitive of situations.