Expanding healthcare services into communities is expected to increase orders for clinical laboratory tests, promote precision medicine, and lower overall costs
laboratories continue to adapt to servicing providers in non-traditional
healthcare settings. These include freestanding urgent care centers as well as
mini-clinics in retail locations. Dark Daily has covered this trend
extensively in previous
To secure a share of this new market, national retailers,
pharmacy chains, and grocery stores are increasing their health and medical
service offerings and forging partnerships with other organizations, such as
One such recent partnership involves Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc.
(NYSE:WBA) and the Microsoft
Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT). In January, both parties announced a joint
venture to develop new healthcare solutions that will improve patient outcomes while
lowering cost through research and development, funding, and technology.
“Our strategic partnership with Microsoft demonstrates our
strong commitment to creating integrated, next-generation, digitally-enabled
healthcare delivery solutions for our customers, transforming our stores into
modern neighborhood health destinations, and expanding customer offerings,”
Pessina, Executive Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Walgreens,
in a Microsoft press
Through this partnership, Walgreens plans to provide personalized healthcare (aka, precision medicine) by connecting its customers to pertinent health information through digital devices and in-store expert advice. The goal is to proactively engage patients in their own care to improve medication adherence, reduce emergency room visits, decrease hospital readmissions, and provide customers with lifestyle management solutions.
In addition, the two companies will share each other’s
market research and work with consumers, payers, providers, and pharmaceutical
manufacturers to devise solutions that improve health outcomes while lowering
“[Walgreens Boot Alliance] will work with Microsoft to harness the information that exists between payers and healthcare providers to leverage, in the interest of patients and with their consent, our extraordinary network of accessible and convenient locations to deliver new innovations, greater value, and better health outcomes in healthcare systems across the world,” Pessina said in the press release.
As part of this partnership, Walgreens will move the majority of its IT infrastructure onto Microsoft Azure, a cloud computing and artificial intelligence (AI) platform. Walgreens also will provide Microsoft 365 to more than 380,000 employees and stores located throughout the world. Microsoft 365 is a business solution which bundles Windows 10 and Office 365 with advanced security features.
Other Walgreens Collaborations That Provide Healthcare at
Walgreens also announced several collaborations with other
companies to become more competitive and secure their share of the healthcare
Through its partnership with Chicago-based VillageMD, a national provider of primary
care clinics, Walgreens will open five primary care clinics next to Walgreens
stores in the Houston area. These clinics, called “Village Medical at Walgreens,”
will offer customers comprehensive primary care services, pharmacists, nurses,
and social workers.
Another collaboration involves Verily Life
Sciences, a research arm of Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG), Google’s parent company. The
agreement is for multiple projects to improve health outcomes for patients with
chronic illnesses. The two companies will be exploring the use of technology, such
as sensors, and software to help prevent, manage, screen, and diagnose disease
with the ultimate goal of deploying those technologies at Walgreens retail
continued rise in chronic diseases today can be costly to patients as well as
to our healthcare system,” Pessina told Business
Wire. “Working with Verily, we’ll look at how we can best support
integrated and value-based care to meet our patients’ needs, as well as
opportunities to address other chronic conditions over time.”
Service Agreements with LabCorp and Quest
In 2018, Walgreens
announced a significant expansion of their collaboration with LabCorp, to increase the number of patient
service center (PCS) locations within Walgreens stores. The two companies
agreed to open at least 600 additional LabCorp-at-Walgreens facilities across
the US over the next four years. At the time of the announcement, LabCorp operated
17 facilities at Walgreens in Florida, Colorado, North Carolina, and Illinois.
Along the same lines, Quest
Diagnostics (NYSE:DGX) also has opened hundreds of patient-serviced centers
within various food and drug retail stores throughout the US, which Dark
Daily reported in 2017.
“Healthcare is too complicated, too big, and if I can say, a
little too messy,” Pessina told Digital
Commerce 360. “We cannot be helpful to our patients if we don’t team up
with many, many different, practically all, the players in this industry.”
CVS HealthHubs Offer Blood Testing, Health Screenings,
and Other Services
To remain competitive, CVS also is trying new ways to
capitalize on the growing healthcare market.
In February, CVS announced
the creation of three newly designed stores in the Houston area as pilot
projects. These stores, called HealthHubs,
will include expanded health clinics with medical laboratories for blood
testing and health screenings. They’ll also feature dieticians, respiratory
specialists, and dedicated space to assist customers with the management of
some chronic health conditions, as well as wellness rooms for yoga classes and
“We’re pleased and surprised pleasantly with the ecosystem
of healthcare that we’ve created here and how approachable it is, how much
people are interested in it, and there are certain things we can take to all
Hourican, Executive Vice President, CVS Health and President, CVS Pharmacy,
With more retailers
adding an ever-increasing number of healthcare services to their offerings, the
number of medical laboratory tests available at those locations will likely
also increase. Although this trend may boost competition for clinical
laboratories, it could also benefit them by creating new opportunities to
provide value-added services to their clients.
While Apple recently debuted features to bring personal health records and protected health information to its mobile devices, Microsoft shuttered HealthVault in favor of focusing on AI-powered healthcare advances
As clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups know, lab testing data comprise more than 70% of the average patient’s health record. Thus, creating a universal platform on which consumers can share or review health information and medical histories with caregivers is a critical, yet elusive goal for most major tech companies, including tech giants Apple (Nasdaq:AAPL) and Microsoft (Nasdaq:MSFT).
Apple has big plans for patient health records and is working to bring protected health information (PHI) and healthcare advice to iPhones, iPads, and Apple Watch. Meanwhile, Microsoft is reducing its footprint in the mobile device healthcare market. Instead, it appears to be banking on its Artificial Intelligence (AI) platform. How these two diverging paths play out could have ramifications for the pathology and clinical laboratory industries.
HealthVault Insights versus AI versus Apple Health Mobile Apps
Launched in February 2017, Microsoft’s HealthVault Insights combined machine learning and AI with patients’ PHI and mobile activity tracking. The intent was to create an accessible, interactive platform for patients to monitor important health trends.
However, as of January 2018, Microsoft pulled the mobile app from Android, iOS, and Windows App stores. While summary information that draws on previously collected data is still available from the HealthVault website, new data and detailed insights are no longer available.
“We launched HealthVault Insights as a research project … with the goal of helping patients generate new insights about their health,” states Microsoft’s HealthVault Insights website. “Since then, we’ve learned a lot about how machine learning can be used to increase patient engagement and are now applying that knowledge to other projects.”
Shuttering HealthVault highlighted Microsoft’s shift away from consumer-facing health efforts and toward assisting medical laboratories, physicians, and research groups discover and implement treatments driving modern personalized medicine.
In a Microsoft blog post, Peter Lee, Corporate VP of Microsoft Healthcare, stated that Microsoft hopes its Healthcare NeXT platform will “dramatically transform healthcare, will deeply integrate Greenfield research and health technology product development, as well as establish a new model at Microsoft for strategic health industry partnerships.”
HealthVault Insights was one of several projects in Microsoft’s Healthcare NeXT initiative. Run by Microsoft’s AI and Research Group and partnering with major healthcare and research facilities across the country, other projects in the Healthcare NeXT initiative include:
Speaking with Business Insider, Lee noted that healthcare is becoming a “very large business” for Microsoft. “We don’t talk publicly about the dollars, but it’s large,” he concluded.
Microsoft’s EmpowerMD website states the eventual goal is to use the system to connect conversations with the growing trove of healthcare data available. “Our long-term vision is a learning system that incorporates data from longitudinal medical records, medical devices, genomics, population health, research papers, and more.”
AI a ‘Sleeping Giant for Healthcare’
“AI can be viewed as a sleeping giant for healthcare,” Eric Horvitz, PhD, Director of Microsoft Research Labs, told Nasdaq, when discussing Microsoft’s view of technology and healthcare. “AI methods show promise for multiple roles in healthcare. [This includes] inferring and alerting about hidden risks of potential adverse outcomes, selectively guiding attention, care, and interventional programs where [they are] most needed and reducing errors in hospitals.”
One such project involves a strategic partnership with the University of Pittsburg Medical Center (UPMC), which is a “$13-billion Pittsburgh-based system, comprising more than 25 hospitals, a three-million-member health plan, and 3,600 physicians, [that] will be a core partner in our efforts to improve healthcare delivery through a series of projects, beginning with a focus on transforming clinician empowerment and productivity,” according to Microsoft.
“Despite UPMC’s efforts to stay on the leading edge of technology, too often our clinicians and patients feel as though they’re serving the technology rather than the other way around. With Microsoft, we have a shared vision of empowering clinicians by reducing the burden of electronic paperwork and allowing the doctor to focus on the sacred doctor-patient relationship,” Steven D. Shapiro, MD (above), Chief Medical and Scientific Officer of UPMC and President of UPMC’s Health Services division, stated in the Microsoft blog. [Photo copyright: University of Pittsburg Medical Center.]
Today, patients can directly interact with their PHI to analyze trends and take a proactive role in their own healthcare, while researchers tap into the computational power of Cloud computing and correlate data across vast sources using AI. Both trends highlight how technology continues to play a critical role in improving access to healthcare. And how tech researchers continue to develop more efficient and effective treatments.
Medical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups may soon contribute health information to databases that one day will power AI systems. These trends highlight opportunities to both educate physicians on the tools available to utilize patient health data in an effective manner, and on new platforms that clinical laboratories could use to further streamline operations, reduce costs, and boost efficiency.