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Bankruptcies and Store Closings Are Signs of Tough Times Ahead for US Retail Pharmacy Chains

Plans by several national retail pharmacy chains to expand primary care services and even some clinical laboratory test offerings may be delayed because of financial woes

Times are tough for the nation’s retail pharmacy chains. Rite Aid Corporation, headquartered in Philadelphia, closed 25 stores this year and has now filed for bankruptcy. In a press release, the retail pharmacy company announced it has “initiated a voluntary-court supervised process under Chapter 11 of the US Bankruptcy Code,” and that it plans to “significantly reduce the company’s debt” and “resolve litigation claims in an equitable manner.”

Rite Aid may eventually close 400 to 500 of its 2,100 stores, Forbes reported.

Meanwhile, other retail pharmacy chains are struggling as well. CVS Health, headquartered in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, and Walgreens Boots Alliance of Deerfield, Illinois, are each closing hundreds of stores, according to the Daily Mail.

They are each experiencing problems with labor costs, theft, being disintermediated for prescriptions by pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), and probably building too many stores in most markets.

This is a significant development, in the sense that Walgreens, CVS, and Walmart are each working to open and operate primary care clinics in their stores. This is a way to offset the loss of filling prescriptions, which has migrated to PBMs. Primary care clinics are important to the revenue of local clinical laboratories, but retail pharmacy chains do not yet operate enough primary care clinics in their retail pharmacies to be a major influence on the lab testing marketplace.

Jeffrey Stein

“With the support of our lenders, we look forward to strengthening our financial foundation, advancing our transformation initiatives, and accelerating the execution of our turnaround strategy,” said Jeffrey Stein (above), Rite Aid’s CEO/Chief Restructuring Officer, in a press release. Clinical laboratory leaders may want to closely monitor the activities of the retail pharmacies in their areas. (Photo copyright: Rite Aid.)

Multiple Pharmacy Companies at Financial Risk

Rite Aid Corporation (NYSE: RAD) confirmed it continues to operate its retail and online platforms and has received from lenders $3.45 billion in financing to support the company through the bankruptcy process. 

However, according to the Associated Press (AP), Rite Aid has experienced “annual losses for several years” and “faces financial risk from lawsuits over opioid prescriptions,” adding that the company reported total debts of $8.6 billion.

Additionally, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a complaint “alleging that Rite Aid knowingly filled unlawful prescriptions for controlled substances,” explained a DOJ press release.

Rite Aid is not the only retail pharmacy brand dealing with unwelcome developments. Fortune reported last year that Walgreens and CVS paid a combined $10 billion to 12 states for “involvement in the opioid epidemic.”

Walgreens intends to close 150 US and 300 United Kingdom locations, its former Chief Financial Officer James Kehoe shared in a third quarter 2023 earnings call transcribed by Motley Fool.

And in a news release, CVS announced plans to close 900 stores between 2022 and 2024.

Pharmacy Companies’ Investment in Primary Care 

Though they are experiencing difficulties on the retail side, Walgreens and CVS have significantly invested in primary care.

In “Walgreens Continues Expansion into Primary Care as VillageMD Acquires Starling Physicians Group with 30 Locations in Connecticut,” we covered how Walgreens’ VillageMD primary care clinics business was expanding its footprint by acquiring Starling Physicians, a multi-specialty physicians group with 30 locations in Connecticut.

In that same ebrief, we reported on CVS’ acquisition of Oak Street Health, a Chicago-based primary care company, for $10.6 billion. CVS plans to have more than 300 healthcare centers by 2026.

“We looked at our business, and we said, ‘We’re seeing an aging population.’ We know people don’t have access to primary care. We know that value-based care is where it’s going. We know that there’s been a renaissance in home (care). So that’s kind of how we approached our acquisitions,” Karen Lynch, CVS Chief Executive Officer told Fortune.

Other Challenges to Retail Pharmacies

It could be that these major pharmacy chains are hoping entry into primary care will offset the loss of sales from prescriptions that have migrated to PBM organizations.

In addition to reimbursement challenges, retail pharmacies are reportedly experiencing:

  • High labor costs,
  • Competition from online, bricks-and-mortar, and grocery businesses, and
  • Effects from the work-at-home trend, among other struggles.

“I think there’s a number of challenges which are coming to a head. One, you have ongoing reimbursement pressure. The reimbursement level for drugs continues to decrease, so profit margin on the core part of the business is under pressure,” Rodey Wing, a partner in the health and retail practices of global strategy and management consulting firm Kearney, told Drug Store News.

Additionally, the pharmacy’s drug sales need to be high enough to retain pharmacists, who are difficult to recruit in a post-pandemic market, Drug Store News explained.

And in the retail space where products are displayed, some pharmacies struggle to compete with Amazon on convenience and with “dollar” stores on price. And with more people working from home, retail pharmacies are seeing less foot traffic, Drug Store News noted. 

Retail pharmacy companies also have competition from pharmacies conveniently situated in grocery and big-box stores, Forbes reported. These include: 

Walmart, for its part, reduced operating hours of pharmacies at more than 4,500 sites, Daily Mail reported.

Thus, medical laboratory leaders would be wise to keep an eye on market changes in their local retail pharmacies. Some locations are equipped with clinical laboratory services and a closure could give local labs an opportunity to reach out to patients and physicians who need access to a new testing provider.

—Donna Marie Pocius

Related Information:

Rite Aid Takes Steps to Accelerate Transformation and Position Company for Long-Term Success    

Drugstore Downsizing: CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid to Close Nearly 1,500 Stores

Pharmacy Chain Rite Aid Files for Bankruptcy Amid Declining Sales and Opioid Lawsuits

US Files Complaint Alleging Rite Aid Dispensed Controlled Substances in Violation of the False Claim Act and the Controlled Substances Act

Rite Aid Files for Bankruptcy in the Face of Massive Debts and ‘Potentially Significant’ Claims for Role in the Opioid Epidemic

Walgreens Boots Alliance Q3 2023 Earnings Call

CVS Health Announces Steps to Accelerate Omnichannel Health Strategy

CVS CEO Sees Changes Coming ‘Faster than a Freight Train’ for Medicare. She’s Betting Billions She Can Build a New American Healthcare System

Threats and Opportunities Facing Retail Pharmacy

As CVS Says It Will Close 900 Stores, Here Are Three More Big Pharmacy Chains Which Are Shutting Locations and Cutting Hours

Walgreens Continues Expansion into Primary Care as VillageMD Acquires Starling Physicians Group with 30 Locations in Connecticut

Retail Pharmacies Are Working with Pharmaceutical Companies to Recruit and Enroll Patients in Decentralized Clinical Trials

This trend, which began during the COVID-19 pandemic, may bypass those clinical laboratories and pathology groups that recruit patients for clinical trials, but increase the diversity of the pool of study participants

National retail pharmacy chains are seeking new lines of business in the healthcare market and their efforts could cost clinical laboratories and pathology groups revenue. Their strategy is to identify patients who are candidates for specific clinical trials and connect them with clinical trial managers for enrollment, according to CNET.

This comes on the back of the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) move to decentralize clinical trials, which got started during the COVID-19 pandemic, and support clinical trials that covered a wider swath of the American population.

Dark Daily first covered this trend in “Walgreens Launches Clinical Trial Business with Goal of Leveraging Consumer Data, Technology, and Nationwide Reach to Increase Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Drug Research.” We reported how Walgreens was launching a business to connect customers with clinical drug trials, a venture that adds another offering to the retail pharmacy giant’s growing menu of healthcare services.  

Traditionally, there are clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups that actively work to connect their patients with appropriate clinical trials (and earn revenue for both the enrollment and doing necessary testing of the patient in support of the trial). Now, following the FDA’s lead, pharmacy companies seem to be working to capture some of that revenue.

“COVID-19 was definitely the impetus for reevaluating how we did clinical trials,” Ramita Tandon, Chief Clinical Trials Officer at Walgreens, told CNET. The interest of retail pharmacies in the business of identifying their patients as candidates for clinical trials is a development that clinical lab managers and pathologists may want to monitor. (Photo copyright: Walgreens.)

Customer Demand for Convenience a Factor

Clinical trials are imperative to the drug approval process required by the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER). The COVID-19 pandemic fueled the FDA’s move to decentralize clinical trials to help pharmaceutical companies recruit subjects for drug testing.

Retail pharmacy chains apparently saw that as the latest opportunity to position retail pharmacies as intermediaries between drug manufacturers and patients.

In response to growing demand for convenient healthcare locations, Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid, and Walmart have all installed primary care clinics into their retail pharmacies and added vaccinations. Further, after COVID-19 caused retail pharmacy chains to sell over-the-counter SARS-CoV-2 home test kits, pharmacies sought to offer more diagnostic test options to their customers, which would further direct such tests away from clinical laboratories.

Over the last two years, Walgreens, Walmart, CVS, and Kroger have also added clinical trials divisions to their corporate holdings. Among the companies’ stated goals is to make clinical trials more accessible and convenient for their customers, as well as to recruit more trial participants from underrepresented populations. 

According to an article published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR), “around 80% of trials fail to meet the initial enrollment target and timeline, and these delays can result in lost revenue of as much as US $8 million per day for drug developing companies.” This shortfall may delay the creation of useful drugs, medical devices, and other essential treatments. 

“If you see the trial is at an academic institution that’s 30, 40 miles away, you’re going to say, ‘Forget it. It’s too far,’” Ramita Tandon, Chief Clinical Trials Officer at Walgreens, told CNET. “But if you can go to a Walgreens that’s maybe five miles away, you’re more likely to participate and complete the trial.”

Creating a More Diverse Group of Clinical Trial Participants

CNET reported that “Pfizer, Gilead, and other biopharmaceutical companies are eager to diversify their patient pool.”

According to the FDA’s 2022 Drug Trials Snapshot, “Whites comprised the majority of patients enrolled in most of the pivotal trials supporting approval of all 37 novel therapies, followed by Asians and Blacks.”

Walgreens, which operates 8,698 pharmacies in 53 states and territories, has installed special clinical trial centers at 15 pharmacies and has approximately one dozen clinical trials in various stages. Tandon said more than two million Walgreens customers have already been contacted about participating in clinical trials.

In January, grocery giant Kroger announced its first clinical trial partnership with Persephone Biosciences to locate subjects for a study on gut health and its influence on colorectal cancer. Data collected from this trial will help develop personalized medicines and discover cancer-specific indicators that may be beneficial in guiding treatments and preventative measures. 

Kroger Health operates nearly 2,200 pharmacies across the US, including 11 specialty pharmacies and 225 clinics.

In October of last year, Walmart announced the creation of the Walmart Healthcare Research Institute (WHRI), which will focus on innovative interventions and medications to help communities that are unrepresented in clinical trials, such as older adults, rural residents, women and minority populations.

Walmart operates over 3,000 pharmacies in 49 states. Ninety percent of Americans live within ten miles of a Walmart, which translates to the retailer being able to reach a large number of candidates for clinical trials.

Study findings published by marketing research company Precedence Research illustrate how the business of clinical trials generated more than $48 billion last year and is projected to reach over $83 billion by 2032. (Graphic copyright: Precedence Research.)

CVS Discontinues Decentralized Clinical Trial Business

CVS Health was the first pharmacy to launch a clinical trials program back in May 2021. However, in May of this year, the company announced it was shuttering that portion of its business.

CVS Health expects to fully phase out its clinical trials unit by the end of 2024, citing “the need to align existing businesses with its larger corporate strategy,” according to BioSpace.

“Fully decentralized models preclude a huge swath of possible research because of safety and regulatory concerns,” Steve Wimmer, Vice President of Partnerships at decentralized clinical trial recruiter 1nHealth, told BioSpace. “It’s difficult to conduct such trials in a standardized manner. I think [CVS] may have imagined that a clinical study visit wouldn’t be that different from the primary care visits they already do. But for interventional, go-to-study trials, it’s not the same as a primary care visit.”

According to the US National Library of Medicine, more than 38,000 registered clinical studies occurred in 2022. As of August 24 of this year, 26,237 clinical studies have been registered on

There are clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups that actively work to connect their patients with those clinical trials. Though pharmacy companies’ clinical trial recruitment programs may reduce revenue for those labs and pathologists, the increased participation in such trials by greater numbers and more diverse populations of people could advance the development of new lifesaving treatments and therapies, which is good for everyone.  

—JP Schlingman

Related Information:

Clinical Trials Are Now at Your Local Drugstore. What That Means for You

Walgreens Launches Clinical Trial Business with Goal of Leveraging Consumer Data, Technology, and Nationwide Reach to Increase Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Drug Research

FDA: Decentralized Clinical Trials for Drugs, Biological Products, and Devices

FDA Guidance: Decentralized Clinical Trials for Drugs, Biological Products, and Devices

US National Library of Medicine: Trends, Charts, and Maps

Healthcare Clinical Trials Market

Online Patient Recruitment in Clinical Trials: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

FDA: Drug Trials Snapshots Summary Report 2022

Kroger Health Establishes Clinical Trial Site Network to Increase Reach and Access to Research Studies

Walmart’s Healthcare Research Institute Launches with Mission to Improve Care for Underserved Communities Through Research

CVS Health Winding Down Clinical Trial Business  

Great Resignation Hits Retail Pharmacies, Causing Shorter Hours, Closures

As with clinical laboratories, worker shortage is affecting large retail pharmacy chains and independent pharmacies alike

Staffing shortages in clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups caused by the Great Resignation is having a similar impact on retail pharmacy chains. Consequently, pharmacy chains are reducing store hours and even closing sites, according to USA Today.

As Dark Daily covered in “Clinical Laboratories Suffer During the ‘Great Resignation,” the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that from August 2021 through December 2021, the healthcare and social assistance workforce saw nearly 2.8 million workers quit—an average of 551,000 people during each of those months. By comparison, in December 2020, 419,000 healthcare workers left their jobs.

Pharmacies now report similar shortages in qualified workers, partly due to the sharp decrease in revenue from COVID-19 vaccinations, but also due to worker burnout. Both developments have counterparts in clinical laboratories as well.

B. Douglas Hoey, PharmD

“I’m concerned that without the help from the COVID-19 vaccinations that everyone needed, these pharmacies that were able to tough it out for another year or two might not be able to continue,” B. Douglas Hoey, PharmD, CEO of the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA), told USA Today. Clinical laboratories that processed large numbers of SARS-CoV-2 diagnostics have experienced the same sudden drop in revenue causing similar difficulties maintaining staffing levels. (Photo copyright: Cardinal Health.)

Staffing Shortages Leading to Safety Concerns

According to the Washington Post’s coverage of a study conducted in 2021 of 6,400 pharmacists in various retail and hospital environments, a majority did not feel they could conduct their jobs efficiently or safely.

  • “75% of the pharmacists in [the] survey disagreed with the statement ‘Sufficient time is allocated for me to safely perform patient care/clinical duties.’”
  • “71% said there were not enough pharmacists working to ‘meet patient care/clinical duties.’”
  • “65% said ‘payment for pharmacy services’ did not support their ‘ability to meet clinical and non-clinical duties.’”

“Workplace conditions have pushed many pharmacists and pharmacy teams to the brink of despair,” said the board of trustees of the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) in a press release, the Washington Post reported. “Pharmacy burnout is a significant patient safety issue. It is impacting patients today with delayed prescription fulfillment, unacceptable waits for vaccines and testing, and potential errors due to high volume, long hours, and pressure to meet performance metrics.”

This is a sentiment that has been repeated across every facet of healthcare—including in clinical laboratories—where staff shortages are being felt.

Shortage of Pharmacists or Lack of Morale?

In “Drugstores Make Slow Headway on Staffing Problems,” the Associated Press outlined from where it believes the staffing problems originate. “There isn’t a shortage of pharmacists. There’s just a shortage of pharmacists who want to work in those high-stress environments that aren’t adequately resourced,” Richard Dang, PharmD, Assistant Professor of Clinical Pharmacy at the University of Southern California (USC), told the Associated Press.

This statement is reminiscent of the views expressed by Susanna Bator, a former clinical laboratory technician, in her personal essay published in The Daily Nurse titled, “The Hidden Healthcare Heroes: A Lab Techs Journey Through the Pandemic.” She previously worked at the Cleveland Clinic and with MetroHealth System in Cleveland, Ohio.

Dark Daily covered Bator’s journey as a clinical laboratory technician working in the trenches during the COVID-19 pandemic in “Clinical Laboratory Technician Shares Personal Journey and Experience with Burnout During the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

“The pressure never let up. No matter how mind-numbing and repetitive the work could get, we had to work with constant vigilance, as there was absolutely no room for error,” Bator wrote.

“We techs were left unsupported and unmentored throughout the pandemic,” she continued. “No one cared if we were learning or growing in our job, and there was little encouragement for us to enter training or residency programs. We were just expendable foot soldiers: this is not a policy that leads to long-term job retention.”

Healthcare workers feeling burnt out and under-appreciated during the pandemic led to mass resignations that produced staffing shortages throughout the industry. It appears this trend has caught up to pharmacies as well.

Workforce Wasn’t Ready

Local and chain pharmacies played an important role in the COVID-19 pandemic. Pharmacists distributed COVID-19 tests and treatment to their communities. But for many it was a struggle to keep up.

Stefanie Ferreri, PharmD, Distinguished Professor in Pharmacy Practice and Chair of the Division of Practice Advancement and Clinical Education at University of North Carolina’s Eshelman School of Pharmacy, told the Associated Press that she felt the expanding role of pharmacies in public health was “awesome” but stated that “the workforce wasn’t quite ready” for what took place during the pandemic.

Much like Bator recounted in her essay, pharmacy workers suddenly had new responsibilities, longer working hours, and little room for error.

“There are multiple stories about pharmacists just getting overwhelmed. The stress level and burnout is high,” Dima M. Qato, PharmD, PhD, told USA Today. Qato is Hygeia Centennial Chair and Associate Professor (with tenure) in the Titus Family Department of Clinical Pharmacy at the University of Southern California. “So, pharmacists leave, and stores have to shorten” their hours, she added.

Scheduling and Patience Can Help

What can be done to soften some of the issues staff shortages are causing? Ferreri suggests that pharmacies set appointment times for regular customers so that a pharmacist’s workload can be more predictable. An appointment system can ease stress for both the pharmacist and patient. Ferreri advises customers to be patient when it comes to their prescriptions. She suggests patients give pharmacies more than a day’s notice for refills.

“I think on both sides of the counter, we need to all have grace and realize this is a very challenging and stressful time for everyone,” said Brigid Groves, PharmD, Vice President, Pharmacy Practice at the American Pharmacists Association.

With burnout, staff shortages, and stress affecting nearly every aspect of the healthcare industry, having patience with each other will go a long way to helping clinical laboratories, pharmacies, and patients navigate the road ahead.

Ashley Croce

Related Information:

Pharmacies Are Cutting Hours and Closing Stores. What It Means for Customers.

Pharmacists Are Burning Out. Patients Are Feeling the Effects.

Drugstores Make Slow Headway on Staffing Problems

The Hidden Healthcare Heroes: A Lab Techs Journey Through the Pandemic

US Hospitals Continue to Be Squeezed by Shortage of Nurses, Rising Salaries

Clinical Laboratories Suffer During the ‘Great Resignation’

Clinical Laboratory Technician Shares Personal Journey and Experience with Burnout During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Walmart’s Health and Wellness Chief Discusses Retail Giant’s Move to Healthcare/Telehealth Provider, a Step with Implications for Clinical Laboratory Testing

Retail giant now has primary care clinics at stores in five states, but the rollout has not gone smoothly

Healthcare is increasingly being driven by consumerism and one clear sign of this trend is Walmart’s ambitious plan to open health clinics at its retail locations. The retail giant set its plans in motion in 2019 with its first primary care site in a suburban Atlanta store, however, the rollout since then has presented certain challenges.

Nevertheless, the trend of placing nearly full-service primary care clinics in retail locations continues. Clinical laboratories in these areas need strategies to serve customers accessing healthcare through these new channels, particularly as Walmart and the national retail pharmacy chains continue to expand the clinical services offered in their retail stores.

“Consumer engagement is a huge part of healthcare, [yet it is also a] gap for us in healthcare,” cardiologist and Walmart VP of Health and Wellness Cheryl Pegus, MD, told Modern Healthcare. “Healthcare is incredibly complicated,” she added. “And where we are in healthcare today is not in having great treatments. It’s not in having evidence-based medicine. It’s understanding how we engage consumers.”

The company also entered the telehealth business with last year’s acquisition of multispecialty telehealth provider MeMD.

“Telehealth offers a great opportunity to expand access and reach consumers where they are and complements our brick-and-mortar Walmart Health locations,” said Pegus in a Walmart new release announcing the acquisition. “Today people expect omnichannel access to care and adding telehealth to our Walmart healthcare strategies allows us to provide in-person and digital care across our multiple assets and solutions.”

Currently, Walmart Health centers only operate in Georgia, Florida, Illinois, and Arkansas. But telehealth enables Walmart “to provide virtual healthcare across the country to anyone,” Pegus said. With both offerings, “we’re really attempting to allow people to get healthcare the way they need it without disrupting the rest of their life.” Many users of these services are Walmart “associates,” she added, using the company’s term for its retail employees.

Cheryl Pegus, MD
“In this country, about 25% of people don’t have a primary care physician,” cardiologist Cheryl Pegus, MD (above), Walmart’s VP of Health and Wellness, told Medscape. “So, your options for being able to solve in real time something that will help you, they’re quite limited. What we’re trying to do is give those options. We’re not trying to take away emergency rooms, or healthcare systems, or existing primary care. We’re asking, how do we expand that infrastructure so that people get care when they need it?” And this includes clinical laboratory testing, radiology, and telehealth services as well. (Photo copyright: Walmart.)

Large Portfolio of Healthcare Offerings

Pegus joined Walmart (NYSE:WMT) in December 2020 to oversee a portfolio that now includes more than 4,700 pharmacies and 3,400 Vision Centers, in addition to the telehealth operation and the Walmart Health centers. She was previously chief medical officer at Walgreens and Cambia Health Solutions and worked in private practice as a cardiologist.

The retail giant opened its first Walmart Health center in Dallas, Ga., an Atlanta suburb, in September 2019, followed by additional centers in Georgia, Arkansas, and Illinois.

Earlier this year, it opened five new clinics in northern and central Florida with plans for at least four more in the Jacksonville, Orlando, and Tampa areas, according to a press release. Each health center is adjacent to a Walmart retail location.

These centers offer a range of primary care medical services, including:

  • physicals,
  • injury care,
  • immunizations,
  • radiology, and
  • care for chronic health conditions.
One of the first health clinics established by Walmart
Pictured above is one of the first health clinics established by Walmart. This location is in a western Atlanta suburb. Note that the services advertised include more than just primary care. Also offered are “labs and X-ray,” along with dental, hearing, optometry, and counseling. Clinical laboratory managers and pathologists may want to monitor whether consumers embrace primary care delivered from clinics located in retail stores. (Photo copyright: Georgia Health News.)

As Dark Daily reported in May 2020, the Walmart Health centers also offer clinical laboratory testing at cut-rate prices, such as:

  • $10 for a lipid test,
  • $10 for Hemoglobin A1c, and
  • $20 for a strep test.

On the Walmart Health website, patients can enter their Zip code to view a list of Walmart Health clinics in their area, including links to price lists.

Walmart’s Expansion into Healthcare Not Without Problems

In “Walmart to Open 4,000 Healthcare ‘Supercenters’ by 2029 That Include ‘Comprehensive’ Clinical Laboratory Services,” Dark Daily covered how Walmart was poised to become a much bigger healthcare player with an expanded menu of clinical laboratory testing services including EKGs, vision care, dental care, and more for children and adults.

However, the company’s expansion into healthcare has not gone smoothly. In 2018, the Walmart board signed off on a plan to open 4,000 health centers by 2029, Insider reported. By the end of 2021, Walmart expected to have 125 health centers in operation, but as of June 2022, the Walmart Health website listed only 25 locations, mostly in Georgia.

Citing anonymous sources, Insider reported problems that include “leadership changes, competing business priorities brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, and the complexity of scaling a massive healthcare operation.”

In Sept. 2021, Insider further reported that the clinics were experiencing operational difficulties including hidden fees and billing problems. One culprit, the story suggested, was the company’s electronic health record (EHR) software. That same month, Walmart announced it would adopt the Epic health records system, beginning with the opening of new clinics in Florida locations.

Pegus’ arrival at Walmart appears to be part of a management shakeup. In January 2022, Insider reported that she had assembled a new executive team, with David Carmouche, MD, Senior VP, Omnichannel Care Offerings, overseeing the health centers and telehealth operations. By then, the original executives leading the rollout of the health centers had all left, Insider reported. Carmouche was previously an executive VP with Ochsner Health in New Orleans.

Partnership with Quest Diagnostics

Meanwhile, in January, Walmart announced a deal with Quest Diagnostics that allows consumers to order more than 50 lab tests through The Wellness Hub on, which is separate from the Walmart Health website. The tests cover “general health, digestive health, allergy, heart health, women’s health, and infectious disease,” according to a press release announcing the partnership.

Consumers can order at-home test kits for certain conditions or set up appointments for tests at Quest Patient Service Centers. The tests on the Walmart/QuestDirect website include:

  • COVID-19 Active Infection ($119+)
  • COVID-19 Antibody Test ($69)
  • Cholesterol Panel ($59)
  • Complete Blood Count ($59)
  • Comprehensive Metabolic Panel ($49)
  • CRP Inflammation Marker ($59)
  • Diabetes Management ($69+)
  • Diabetes Risk ($99+)
  • Food Allergy Test Panel ($209)
  • Chickenpox ($59)

The website also offers a combined Basic Health Profile with CBC, CMP, cholesterol panel, and urinalysis for $149. “Each purchase is reviewed and, if appropriate, ordered by a licensed physician,” the press release states.

What does all this mean for clinical laboratories? “They need to recognize that the Millennials and Gen Zs are driving a consumer revolution in healthcare,” said Robert Michel, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Dark Daily and its sister publication The Dark Report.

“Walmart was early to recognize and respond to this, in part because it employs 1.3 million Americans, many of whom are Gen Y and Gen Z and quick to use telehealth and similar virtual health services,” he added.

Clinical laboratory leaders need to understand this trend and develop strategies to attract and serve new patients who are willing to access healthcare virtually, while still needing to provide blood and other specimens for the lab tests ordered by their providers.

Stephen Beale

Related Information:

Q/A with Dr. Cheryl Pegus of Walmart: ‘Consumer Engagement Is a Huge Part of Healthcare’

Nine Numbers That Show How Big Walmart’s Role in Healthcare Is

Walmart Health Opens Two More Locations in Chicago

Change Makers: Dr Cheryl Pegus on How Walmart Is Rethinking Health

Walmart to Open Two Health Clinics in Rogers, Fort Smith

Walmart Deepens Healthcare Offering with Lab Test Partnership

Walmart Tests Leap into Healthcare Business by Opening Second Clinic

Walmart to Open 4,000 Healthcare ‘Supercenters’ by 2029 That Include ‘Comprehensive’ Clinical Laboratory Services

Retail Chain Pharmacies Add CLIA-Waived Point-of-Care Blood Testing and Other Preventive Health Services to Their In-store Offerings

Independent clinical laboratories may continue to see their customer numbers drop as more consumers choose healthcare delivered in non-traditional locations

More clinical laboratory companies are offering testing in non-traditional locations with non-traditional delivery systems to serve busy healthcare consumers and ambulatory patients. One such company is eTrueNorth, a pharmacy‐based clinical laboratory services network.

The Mansfield, Texas-based company has partnered with Walmart (NYSE:WMT), Winn-Dixie, Kroger (NYSE:KR), and other retailers to offer their employees CLIA-waived point-of-care testing, preventive health services, wellness screenings, and other medical laboratory testing services through its eLabNetwork chain of retail pharmacies.

This is yet another example of a company responding to the public’s demand for convenient healthcare delivery, including clinical laboratory testing.

Pharmacists as Care Givers

eTrueNorth has quietly built a 5,500-location network of independent CLIA-waived laboratories in retail pharmacies. By bringing point-of-care testing to community pharmacies, the company says it can close gaps in healthcare.

“By empowering local pharmacists to administer preventative healthcare screenings and close gaps in care, eTrueNorth is working in partnership with retail pharmacies, self-funded employers, third-party payors and pharmaceutical manufacturers to identify undiagnosed conditions and better manage chronic diseases,” the company’s website states. “By leveraging the accessibility of retail pharmacies, eTrueNorth expands the scope of services provided to consumers to be more effective, of higher quality and, at the same time, enhance the pharmacy’s value as a key participant in a multidisciplinary healthcare delivery model.”

The website states that eTrueNorth’s ePOCT software suite “simplifies administrative processes for CLIA-waived labs that conduct point-of-care testing.” It provides the infrastructure for CLIA-waived laboratories to meet all applicable federal, state, and local regulations. In addition, the company provides documentation to medical professionals as they track compliance with quality-control efforts for diagnostic devices.

In an exclusive interview with Dark Daily, Coral May, eTrueNorth’s CEO, President, and co-founder, said the company’s growth will continue to accelerate.

“In the next few months, we will be adding quite a few more [eLabNetwork locations] because we will be bringing on a couple of other major brands,” May said in a telephone interview.

May explained that all eLabNetwork pharmacies have standing orders for their limited test menu. This means consumers do not need a physician’s order to receive clinical laboratory services. As a result, however, consumers currently cannot submit a claim for the eLabNetwork service to their insurer. This is about to change.

Coral May (above) is CEO and President of eTrueNorth, a pharmacy-based clinical laboratory services network spanning more than 5,500 locations. “With the assistance of local pharmacists, eTrueNorth is making obtaining laboratory testing easier for individuals,” she said in a news release. “By leveraging the convenience of retail pharmacies, consumers are able to fit healthcare into everyday life.” (Photo copyright: LinkedIn.)

Health Plans May Soon Partner with eLabNetwork Pharmacies

May announced that in the second quarter of 2020 eTrueNorth will launch “within several different health plans” the ability “to provide and submit claims for tests that will close quality measures, gaps in care.”

Though May could not yet announce which health plans will be partnering with eTrueNorth, she stated that participating insurers would be communicating with their members directly to steer them to eLabNetwork pharmacies where they can receive CLIA-waived testing.

May previously pointed out that health plans benefit from eTrueNorth engaging plan members at the pharmacy counter and addressing gaps in care ranging from diabetes testing to hypertension control and medication adherence. She cited as example an insurance plan member with diabetes who has not yet had an A1C test for diabetes or needs an microalbumin [urine] test.

“Our goal is to make it easier for individuals to have affordable and increased access to additional healthcare from the convenience of their local pharmacy,” she stated in a news release.

Another of eTrueNorth’s stated objectives is to increase the number of participants in the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Diabetes Prevention Program (National DPP), which was created in 2010 to increase evidence-based, cost-effective interventions that help prevent Type 2 diabetes.

In order for Medicare Advantage-eligible patients to participate in the program, they must have a fasting blood glucose test. eTrueNorth believes increasing access to point-of-care blood testing could boost participation in the DPP.

“The eTrueNorth Voucher Solution is designed to maximize participation in wellness-screening events by providing convenient access to screenings,” May said in a news release. “Local pharmacists are trusted medical providers to the community. The eTrueNorth Voucher Solution allows individuals to obtain the same high-quality, accurate testing at retail pharmacies as they would from their primary-care office.”

How the Voucher Solution Works

The company’s voucher program enables employees who miss onsite wellness screenings, or who work remotely, to visit a local pharmacy to obtain point-of-care testing and on-the-spot counseling.

Through eLabNetwork’s website, an employee can confirm eligibility, choose a pharmacy based on zip code, schedule an appointment and create a voucher. In addition, the eLabNetwork transmits results to the wellness plan and/or patient’s physician, invoices wellness plan vendors, and sends payments to participating pharmacies for:

  • Full lipid panel;
  • Glucose;
  • Hemoglobin A1C testing (for individuals already diagnosed with diabetes); and
  • Common vaccines.

The company has experienced rapid expansion, most recently adding the Kroger Family of Companies, Giant Food Stores, Food Lion, and Stop and Shop to its growing list of retail partners, a 2019 eTrueNorth Sell Sheet states.

“With 95% of the US population living within five miles of a retail pharmacy, eTrueNorth envisions a future where consumers can access healthcare,” May said in a company statement. “This expanding list of retail pharmacies has the potential to make a significant impact on how healthcare is delivered.”

Will independent clinical laboratories be affected by these events? Almost certainly. Dark Daily has reported often on the public’s increasing demand to receive healthcare in convenient, nearby locations, such as shopping malls and retail pharmacies. This is just another example of that expanding trend.

Lab leaders will want to keep a close eye on it and plan accordingly. It’s a trend that could potentially threaten clinical laboratories’ bottom lines.

—Andrea Downing Peck

Related Information:

Southeastern Grocers Partner with eTrueNorth to Launch CLIA-Waived Laboratory for Point-of-Care Testing at Local Pharmacies

eTrueNorth Creates Retail Pharmacy Network of CLIA-Waived Laboratories for Point-of-Care Testing

eTrueNorth Launches National Voucher Solution Enabling Wellness Screenings at Retail Pharmacies

eTrueNorth: Fitting Wellness into Everyday Life

Walgreens, CVS Add New Healthcare Services and Technology to Their Retail Locations; Is Medical Laboratory Testing Soon to Be Included?

Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp Ink Deals to Put Patient Services Centers in Grocery Stores and Retail Pharmacies, But Not for the Same Reasons as Theranos

Americans Are Using Convenient Care Clinics in Retail Settings