Demand for low cost, convenient access to doctors and drugs is driving transformation to decentralized medical care, and retail pharmacy chains see opportunity in offering primary care services
Retail pharmacies and pharmacists continue to play a growing role in healthcare as consumer demand for lower cost and convenience pushes the nation’s medical landscape away from centralized healthcare systems. Clinical laboratories have seen this in the increasing trend of consumers seeking vaccinations and home-health tests at their local drug stores.
Results of a pair of surveys dubbed “Pharmacy Next” conducted by Wolters Kluwer Health revealed that 58% of people are now willing to be treated for non-emergency healthcare conditions in non-traditional medical environments, such as retail pharmacies and clinics.
This is a finding that clinical laboratory managers and pathologists should incorporate into their labs’ strategic planning. It portends a shift in care away from the traditional primary care clinic—typically located in the campus around the community hospital—and toward retail pharmacies. Labs will want to capture the test referrals originating from the primary care clinics located in retail pharmacies.
This willingness to access medical care in non-traditional environments is especially true among people in Generation Y (Millennials) and Generation Z (Zoomers)—people born between 1981-1996 (Gen Y) and 1997-2012 (Gen Z), according to Journey Matters.
“As we saw in last year’s survey, primary care decentralization is continuing—the traditional one doctor-one patient, single point of coordination is vanishing, and this is especially evident in younger generations,” said Peter Bonis, MD, Wolters Kluwer’s Chief Medical Officer, in a press release.
The online surveys of more than 2,000 US adults was weighted by age, gender, household income, and education to be representative of the entire population of the United States.
“By preparing for this shift today, providers can work in concert across care sites to deliver the best care to patients,” said Peter Bonis, MD, Wolters Kluwer Health Chief Medical Officer, in a press release. “Likewise, newer care delivery models, like retail pharmacies and clinics, can ensure they’re ready to meet the expectations of healthcare consumers, who will increasingly be turning to them for a growing range of care needs.” Clinical laboratories may find new revenue opportunities working with the primary care clinics operating within local retail pharmacists and clinicians. (Photo copyright: Wolters Kluwer.)
Key Findings of the Wolters Kluwer Pharmacy Next Studies
Some key insights of the surveys include:
Care is rapidly decentralizing with 58% stating they are likely to visit a local pharmacy for non-emergency medical care.
Younger generations are signaling lasting change within the industry as they are more open to non-traditional styles of care.
61% of respondents envision most primary care services being provided at pharmacies, retail clinics, or pharmacy clinics within the next five years. Of the respondents, 70% of Millennials, 66% of Gen Z, 65% of Gen X, and 43% of Baby Boomers believe this transition will occur.
Consumers are worried about prescription costs and availability.
92% of respondents said physicians and pharmacists should inform patients of generic options.
59% of surveyed consumers have concerns about drug tampering and theft when it involves mail order or subscription prescription services.
One in three respondents believe convenience is more important than credentials in non-emergency situations.
The survey indicates that healthcare consumers across multiple generations are open to a shift in some medical services from doctors to pharmacists. However, there were some notable differences between generations.
Respondents of the Baby Boomer (55%) and Gen X (57%) generations stated they would trust a physician assistant with medication prescriptions, while only 42% of Gen Z and 47% of Millennial respondents felt the same way.
Additionally, Boomers (57%) and Gen X (67%) said they would feel comfortable with a nurse practitioner issuing their prescriptions, while only 44% of Gen Z and 53% of Millennials said they would.
Increased Comfort with Genetic Testing at Pharmacies
Overall, 68% of individuals polled believe their individual genomic data could guide prescription decisions, with Millennials (77%) and Gen Z (74%) being the primary believers. Additionally, 88% of respondents stated they see an incentive for health insurers to cover genomic testing, and 72% said they would be open to genetic testing for personalized medical care.
But pharmacists and clinicians should be aware that advancing pharmacogenomics will require addressing privacy concerns. According to the Wolters Kluwer study, 57% of Gen Z and 53% of Millennials have apprehension surrounding genetic testing due to privacy risks, with 35% of Gen X and Boomers holding that same opinion.
Healthcare Staff Shortages, Drug Cost a Concern
Survey respondents are also concerned about pharmacy staff shortages and expenditures when seeking care at a pharmacy. Half of the participants are worried they will receive the wrong medication, half worry about getting the incorrect dosage, and almost half (47%) fear receiving the wrong directions due to overburdened pharmacy employees.
More people in Gen Z (59%) and Millennials (60%) had these concerns compared to Gen X (44%) and Boomers (38%).
Sadly, a distressing 44% of those surveyed admitted to not filling a prescription due to the costs. That number jumps to a staggering 56% among individuals with no health insurance, compared to 42% for insured patients.
“From hospitals to doctors’ offices, from pharmacies to pharma and beyond, healthcare must move to more affordable and accessible primary care models, adopt innovations that help deliver more personalized care, and address persistent safety and cost concerns that consumers have about their medications,” said Bonis in the press release.
Can Pharmacies Deliver Primary Care as Well as Doctor’s Offices?
Pharmacies may be logical setting for at least some non-emergency health services. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 90% of the US population live within five miles of a pharmacy and about 72% of visits to physician’s offices involve the prescribing and monitoring of medication therapies.
“We’re not talking about complicated services. We’re talking low-acuity, very basic care,” said Anita Patel, PharmD, Vice President of Pharmacy Services Development for Walgreens, at the HIMSS conference.
Pharmacies across the country continue to add more healthcare services to their available public offerings. This trend will likely persist into the future as healthcare becomes more expensive, wait times for physician appointments increases, and medical staff shortages rise. Thus, there may be opportunities for clinical laboratories to support pharmacists and doctors working in retail settings.
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.
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.
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:
care for chronic health conditions.
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
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 Walmart.com, 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)
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.
Medical laboratories can get ahead of the trend by developing processes for serving younger healthcare consumers in different ways
Experts say that Millennials are rewriting the rules of healthcare. Rather than following in baby boomers’ footsteps, this new generation of young adults shops for healthcare in ways that may change the provider-patient relationship for all providers, including pathologists and medical laboratories.
Also known as Gen Y, this generation interacts with healthcare providers differently than earlier generations in at least three basic ways:
When seeking medical advice, they first turn to websites;
They prefer to ask friends for physician referrals; and,
They are not shy about requesting discounts from providers to cut their medical costs.
Different Approaches to Choosing Doctors and Communicating Concerns