'Siri, How's My Breathing?' Apple Testing iPhone's Ability to Help with Asthma

Also featured: advances in health monitoring, retailers branch out and COVID trends

Editor’s note: Welcome to The PostScript Rewind, a biweekly recap of the latest in healthcare news. Featuring what you need to know — none of what you don’t.

Tech giants and virtual care companies are rushing to meet the demand for a new kind of consumer who embraces remote monitoring. This huge shift in healthcare is geared to help people optimize their wellness and fitness or monitor chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension.

For companies like Apple and Amazon, the growing popularity of health tracking boosts their place in the health market. Those companies are transforming their bestselling wearables into health tools.

For Apple, its foray into health tracking comes on two fronts this week:

• Apple is launching a virtual study to test how its iPhone and Apple Watch could help manage asthma symptoms.

• And CVS Health has signed on to offer Apple’s new fitness app for smartwatches to some commercial Aetna and Caremark members.

Meanwhile, other health tech companies are using remote monitoring to connect patients with health pros. (Remember the patient-vital-gathering robot dog from the last article?)

As part of the trend, Fitbit has gotten medical device clearances in the U.S. and Europe for its smartwatch electrocardiogram app to track users’ heart rhythms.

Retailers branch out with new services

Retailers across America are finding ever-increasing ways to gain a piece of the healthcare pie.

• Walmart is planning on more healthcare “super centers” in Tampa and Orlando; seven more locations in Georgia; and two in Chicago. These will join six already-open sites.

The super centers offer primary healthcare services, dental care and behavioral health.

• Walmart and Amazon are battling it out over drone delivery services, as Walmart partners with a company called Zipline. Their plan is to start delivering health and wellness products early next year.

• COVID-19 testing is another area of growth, with CVS doubling its drive-thru sites and Walgreens expanding testing access to employers.

• CVS is even getting into the housing market. The chain is investing $13.7 million to help renovate a housing complex in a Columbus, Ohio, neighborhood. The move is part of its aim to address racial inequality and social determinants of health, and increase access to affordable housing.

Virtual, in-person healthcare combos

Healthcare company Kaiser Permanente is launching a “virtual first” health plan in Washington. Starting in January 2021, the plan will center telehealth as a starting point for non-urgent issues. Members will connect with clinicians virtually, with the option to follow up in person.

As patients across the country embrace virtual care, many systems are looking to hybrid care that incorporates telehealth as a core piece.

Care during COVID-19

When the pandemic hit, preventive care — like vaccinations and colonoscopies — declined drastically. And they still lagged at the start of summer, as people remained wary of in-person care.

Hospitals are working to get the word out that it’s safe for patients to return, but some people continue to defer.

Even before the pandemic hit, the number of people without health insurance increased last year, according to new federal figures. Nearly 30 million were not covered in 2019, up from 28.6 million in 2018.

Good patient-doctor relationship can make you healthier

A good relationship between you and your doctor means more than just patient satisfaction and loyalty.

A study shows it also can make you healthier.

That positive relationship is built on patient trust, a shared understanding of goals and seamless access to care.

Speak up! Wondering how to start a conversation about the price of your Rx? Get tips and sample talking points in our article, “How to Talk to Your Doctor about Prescription Costs.”

Rx tip of the week

Shopping for a pharmacy? Here’s something to think about, says Eric Wu, ScriptHero clinical pharmacist:

“Consider what services are offered. Aside from getting your prescriptions, do you want a pharmacy that gives immunizations like flu shots? One that has durable medical equipment like walkers or shower chairs? A place that can do simple health screenings? Find the one that works best for you.”

• For more tips, see our article, “Are You Going to the Right Pharmacy for Your Needs?”

Victoria Ellwood is a writer and storyteller in central Ohio, where she writes about everything from academia, the arts and agriculture to healthcare, Shakespeare and small-town living. Her work’s been featured in Modern Farmer and magazines and websites for The Ohio State University College of Arts and Sciences, College of Nursing, Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives, University Libraries, Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council and Small Nation Strong.

Did you know it's cheaper up to 25% of the time to skip your insurance when paying for your prescriptions?

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This article was last updated September 29, 2020

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