By Mary Barlow

I remember first hearing about whole person healthcare more than a decade ago while working at Blue Cross. While traditional healthcare focuses on acute, episodic care and puts an emphasis on a patient’s clinical needs, whole person healthcare equally emphasizes the clinical, social, environmental, behavioral, and emotional needs of a patient.1,2 This holistic approach involves assessing the non-medical root causes of disease, including social risk factors. 

Years ago, this approach was considered a desirable dimension of care but it didn’t drive provider compensation. Now, in the midst of the pandemic, that perspective may be changing across the healthcare industry. 

The COVID-19 crisis has brought renewed focus to whole person healthcare due to the emotional toll it can take on many patients as well as the myriad ways the pandemic has exposed the socioeconomic vulnerability of some communities.1

Today, payers increasingly support a whole person approach to care. Cigna, for example, now offers whole person health plans that include enhanced support for members. Such health plans integrate access to community-based networks and provide 24/7 customer support to better address members’ social and emotional—as well as clinical—needs.3  

Telehealth, which has rapidly grown to keep as many patients as possible away from healthcare settings during the pandemic, provides further evidence of a growing support for whole person healthcare. With the expansion of telehealth, payers see they must invest in this platform and feel there is an opportunity to incorporate whole person health into this initiative. As Caraline Coats, vice president of Humana’s Bold Goal and Population Health Strategy, has noted, “There’s no other better place to understand someone’s whole person health needs than in their home.”1 Payers can gain a more accurate sense of how members respond to questions regarding their home environment while members are actually there. 

Life science companies should take note of the new emphasis on the whole person approach to care because it may impact how payers view their products. For example, some payers are layering whole person healthcare into their value-based payment programs and basing provider performance on dimensions of care beyond the clinical. So if your product impacts quality of life in a way its competitors’ do not, it would make sense to include this rationale in your value prop and messaging.

In my view, the more pharma understands its customers’ needs and perspectives, the better it can educate them on how their products meet those needs. When appropriate, in addition to clinical efficacy and safety, pharma should train its colleagues to actively discuss their products’ impact on the whole patient. Since whole person health will be tied to value-based benefits, it’s something to pay attention to at this moment and beyond the current crisis. 


  1. Pursuing value-based whole person care in telehealth, population health. Xtelligent Healthcare Media. November 2, 2020. Accessed November 2, 2020.
  2. Schlossberg M. Whole-person healthcare. Journal of AHIMA. March 1, 2020. Accessed November 2, 2020.
  3. Whole-person health plans. Cigna. Accessed November 2, 2020.

Mary Barlow brings to Encompass more than 30 years of experience in healthcare, including in training, quality management, and communications with insurers, as well as writing for pharma, medical device companies, physicians, hospitals, distributors, labs, and clinical trial awareness campaigns. A member of Grubstreet, Boston’s primary literary writing center, Mary has participated in Brown University’s Summer Writing Symposium and is an alumnus of The Writer’s Hotel literary arts center. A graduate of Clark University, Mary graduated magna cum laude, earning a bachelor’s degree in the science of professional communications.