Let there be no doubt: There has never been a more critical time for our nation to address the staggering health inequities faced by underserved populations. A multiyear pandemic, partisan-based politics that limit health care rights, and long-standing stigmas, fear, and discrimination against marginalized populations have exacerbated existing obstacles to health care—and created a wealth of new ones.
For example, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force just gave PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) its highest recommendation for groups facing greater risks of HIV. The news is bittersweet. Because even though PrEP recently celebrated its 10th birthday and can reduce the risk of getting HIV by up to 99% when used correctly, research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that only 25% of the 1.2 million people for whom PrEP was recommended in 2020 were prescribed treatment. Why? Findings reveal that disparities in access breach the racial, gender, and geographic divide: PrEP is much less likely to reach Black and Latinx communities, women, and those living in the South—despite these groups having a greater need for treatment. Throw in a recent lawsuit that threatens to upend affordable PrEP coverage due to thinly veiled discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community, and the picture of health care “haves and have-nots” becomes abundantly clear.
At Avita, we believe health care is a human right. Our vision is to help our patients, partners, and communities knock down health care barriers. So, I’d like to explain the steps we’re taking to do something about it.
We've widened our scope of services
At the end of 2021, Avita’s board of directors and leadership team decided that to truly promote health equity as an organization, we needed to widen our scope beyond contract pharmacy services. After strategic discussions with our partners, we knew the first step was to help covered entities maintain consistent access to a network of trusted providers when needed so they could fulfill their clinical goals and use 340B dollars to serve more patients. In October of 2022, we announced the acquisition of what was formerly AbsoluteCare’s Atlanta medical and primary care center and pharmacy and began our expansion into health care services.
The response from our partners—who understand that Avita has no objective to become a 340B federal grantee but every intention of helping them future-proof their missions—has been overwhelmingly positive. And so, while we were ramping up the learning curve, we decided to tackle another snarl in the patient journey: helping patients who were unable or unwilling to access traditional clinical locations do so from the environment of their choice. We took a huge step in this direction this week when we announced the acquisition of Q Care Plus, a community-focused care management solution that offers stigma-free access to telehealth, with a focus on telePrEP services.
Part of what’s exciting about joining forces with Q Care Plus is that it doesn’t just provide access to PrEP and HIV care to patients; it provides convenient access. Our covered entity partners and other internal and external stakeholders have practically shouted from the rooftops that social determinants of health—defined as the “circumstances in which people grow, live, work, and age”—are essential in the fight to end HIV compassionately and equitably. Q Care Plus’ exclusive digital health platform helps patients who might have considerations beyond their health care issues, like transportation or childcare limitations, virtually interact with culturally competent providers in locations they find comfortable, safe, and secure. And in a world where those looking to receive PrEP, HIV, and sexual wellness care often face stigma due to their socioeconomic status, religious affiliation, or sexual orientation, comfort is a big deal. We know that where there is comfort, there is trust, and that results in increased adherence to treatment. The bottom line? Bringing Avita and Q Care Plus together helps our covered entity partners reach the 75% of patients who are eligible for PrEP but, for whatever reason, don’t take it and put themselves at risk.
The needs of our patients and partners come first
Each stage of Avita’s transformational growth has had to pass a sniff test beyond its feasibility for the business, namely: What does it mean for both the patient journey and the ability of our partners to sustainably fulfill their missions?
As mentioned previously, patients from underserved communities face a host of barriers to accessing care and staying on their treatment plans. Those roadblocks translate into challenges for our covered entity partners as they work to build and retain their patient bases and get the full benefit of the 340B program. As we enter the first month of 2023, I’m proud that Avita has made considerable progress in creating a more seamless and successful patient journey for those we serve.