Humana's CenterWell eyes 'aggressive' growth, tech innovation for senior-focused primary care centers

Humana has major growth ambitions for its CenterWell senior-focused primary care business and plans to open 50 new centers by 2025.

"Those are aggressive growth targets and we want to grow by thousands of patients," Erica Savage-Jeter, M.D., division chief medical officer for CenterWell Senior Primary Care, told Fierce Senior Editor Paige Minemyer during the Fierce Health Payer Summit in Austin last week.

The U.S. population is aging, with 10,000 people turning 65 every day, according to U.S. Census data. By 2030, all boomers will be at least age 65, data show, and this will increase the demand for primary care and specialty care services.

Humana sees a major opportunity to grow in the provider space and opened its 250th CenterWell clinic in Dallas this past summer. CenterWell clinicians treat more than 272,000 seniors at hundreds of centers in 12 states. 

But the Medicare Advantage insurer's primary care arm isn't just focused on geographic expansion just for the sake of growth.

"If we don't help those patients meet those outcomes that we desire, independent of where we go and how many patients we acquire, that we failed our patients," Savage-Jeter said. "Ultimately, our goal is to make sure that those patients have better outcomes and that they're able to spend more time with family and friends and less time sick. When I think about growth and about where we're going, yes, we're increasing centers, yes, we're stretching our footprint across the nation and, yes, we're acquiring more patients. But our goal is to help those patients have better outcomes and less sick days."

Humana's CenterWell business also is investing in technology innovation to harness data and analytics to better serve patients, she noted.

"How do we use different applications and advances and AI, which is a hot topic. How do we start to weave some of that into our model and into our toolkits?" she said. "But if we do all of that, we grow exponentially the number of centers and the number of patients, and we become tech-savvy and use every resource there is to become more automated, if we lose sight of helping our patients get to a better outcome, I feel like we have not set out to our mission. Our primary mission is to make sure that through all that growing, all that innovation, that we keep laser-focused on making sure that our patients have the best possible clinical outcomes."

In addition to the senior-focused primary care clinics, CenterWell also houses Humana's home health business, another key strategic focus, and is sister to the Conviva Care Center brand. The business also includes CenterWell Pharmacy, a combination of mail-order, retail and specialty pharmacy operations, Savage-Jeter said.

These different business units combined with CenterWell's team-based approach enable clinicians to provide "wraparound" services and focus on patients' specific needs.

"It's really that team approach that differentiates us. Think about those patients who have been difficult to manage, and maybe other clinicians have said, 'They won't get to goal; they're non-adherent.' When we wrap around our services, we are able to help them navigate the healthcare system in terms of specialty care or we're able to help them get medication and the resources that they need. That's really what moves the needle and helps them get to goal," Savage-Jeter said.

CenterWell’s care model also enables physicians to have longer appointment times that give patients the opportunity to discuss all that impacts their health with their doctor.

"You're able to develop that relationship, and that's the key. Developing the relationship between the patient and the provider, getting buy-in, empowering the patient, making them a part of their action plan," she said. "If we can help that patient have a better outcome, we're then able to tackle the population and so that we can see the changes across the population."

As much as 80% of a person’s health is determined by a combination of nonclinical factors, including social factors like access to nutritious food and financial resources, she noted. Along with addressing medical needs, CenterWell clinicians can help connect patients with community resources to address social needs as well.

The primary care centers work with local community partners to help patients get access to nutritious food, Savage-Jeter said, as one example.

Many of CenterWell's clinics operate as community centers in addition to being medical facilities, she noted.

"We've looked at a lot of things post-COVID. Our patients are coming back in and are now able to participate in exercises, and that also helps with isolation and loneliness but also helps with their physical activity and their ability to remain independent. We even offer teaching sessions and classes in those activity centers. We use them in so many ways to help empower patients and to create that socialization that we all need," she said.

In August, CenterWell launched in-home primary care to seniors who receive care at select locations in Georgia and Louisiana. The new Primary Care Anywhere program harnesses the capabilities of Heal, which Humana acquired earlier this year.

Being a part of Humana enable CenterWell to have an integrated approach to care, she noted.

"It just helps us to expand that whole wraparound outside of our clinic into their home, making sure that their medicines are being delivered and that they're educated on how to use them from our pharmacy team. It helps extend that outside the boundaries of our clinic around to the patient in their home to make sure they have good outcomes," Savage-Jeter said.