By partnering with drug manufacturers to connect customers with clinical trials, the retail pharmacy chain believes this new venture will be the company’s “next growth engine.”
Walgreens is launching a business to connect customers with clinical drug trials, a venture that adds another offering to the retail pharmacy giants’ growing menu of healthcare services. This new venture might also mean additional test orders for clinical laboratories and pathology groups in areas that serve Walgreens customers.
Now, Walgreens is attempting to further redefine the patient experience by partnering with pharmaceutical companies to find participants for clinical trials, a business that could result in more Americans from underrepresented racial and ethnic populations enrolling in drug-development trials. With 9,021 retail pharmacies in all 50 states, it is well-positioned to know which of its customers would be candidates for different clinical trials.
“Walgreens’ trusted community presence across the nation, combined with our enterprise-wide data and health capabilities, enables us to pioneer a comprehensive solution that makes health options, including clinical trials, more accessible, convenient and equitable,” said Ramita Tandon, Walgreens’ Chief Clinical Trials Officer, in a press release.
Ramita Tandon, Walgreens’ Chief Clinical Trials Officer, believes Walgreens can play a role in solving the issues of diversity and declining enrollment in clinical trials. “Through the launch of our clinical trials services, we can provide another offering for patients with complex or chronic conditions in their care journey, while helping sponsors advance treatment options for the diverse communities we serve,” she said in a press release. (Photo copyright: Walgreens.)
Serving the Socially Vulnerable
In an interview with Fierce Healthcare, Tandon described the clinical trials business as Walgreens’ “next growth engine” of consumer-centric healthcare solutions.
According to the company press release, “Walgreens is addressing access barriers through a compliant, validated and secure decentralized clinical trial platform built on a rigorous compliance and regulatory framework to ensure patient privacy and security. This approach leverages owned and partner digital and physical assets, including select Health Corner and Village Medical at Walgreens locations, to directly engage patients at home, virtually or in-person.”
Walgreens notes that more than half of its roughly 9,000 U.S.-based stores are in “socially vulnerable areas.”
According to the Washington Examiner, a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) study revealed that 75% of patients who participate in clinical trials are white, while just 11% are Hispanic and fewer than 10% are Asian or black. In addition, participation in clinical trials has been declining, with 80% of trials failing to attract enough participants on time.
Tandon maintains that making the process of participating in clinical trials easier is another key to increasing diversity and participation in clinical trials.
“During the clinical trial journey, we know it’s a burden for patients to visit sites. We also know that 78% of patient-consumers in the US live within five miles of a Walgreens,” she told PharmaVoice. “If a patient can complete much of the up-front clinical trial requirements at a local Walgreens, or conduct some of the visits digitally, it would make the whole clinical trial experience that much more positive and, maybe, encourage the patient to participate in new clinical trials going forward.”
Walgreens also plans to use its treasure-trove of customer data to find potential patients for its trials business.
“Understanding this detail of customer preference and segmentation can be quite useful particularly in clinical trials, for example, to create better protocols,” Tandon told PharmaVoice. “We are sitting on so much information, but we can, and need to, do a better job of using these insights in a real-world setting, which can be translated to pharma R/D or brand management organizations. We’re all about patient-centric drug development.”
FDA Seeks Diversity in Clinical Trails
Walgreens is in discussions with several drug manufacturers as it looks to launch this new venture.
“We are working very closely with them to understand their business needs and create the solution that’s going to be sort of bespoke to their specific trial needs,” Tandon told Fierce Healthcare. “Our goal is to move that needle and start to see a larger number of US patients participating and highly diverse participants that are coming into clinical trials.”
In April, an FDA press release announced new draft guidance aimed at “developing plans to enroll more participants from underrepresented racial and ethnic populations in the US into clinical trials.”
“Despite having a disproportionate burden for certain diseases, racial and ethnic minorities are frequently underrepresented in biomedical research,” the FDA stated. “Clinical trials provide a crucial base of evidence for evaluating whether a medical product is safe and effective; therefore, enrollment in clinical trials should reflect the diversity of the population that is ultimately going to use the treatment.”
Disintermediation of Retail Pharmacies
“Walgreens has a significant opportunity to create an interconnected healthcare ecosystem where we can use the physical assets of Walgreens and connect with patients and consumers at a local level to better support healthcare and healthcare equality,” Tandon said in PharmaVoice.
This is the latest example of a billion-dollar retail pharmacy chain diversifying away from simply filling prescriptions. Two types of competitors are driving the disintermediation of retail pharmacies because they end up directing patients away from the pharmacy:
Amazon.com acquired PillPack and now sends, via mail, prescriptions to patients’ homes.
Pharmacy benefit management (PBM) companies with a business model that encourage patients to get 90 days of prescriptions at once, mailed to their home.
In both cases, retail pharmacies lose access to patients. This is what is motivating several national pharmacy chains to offer primary care within their retail pharmacies (where following an office visit with a general practitioner, the patient simply crosses the store to the pharmacy to fill his/her prescription), as well as the clinical trial matching business.
As retail pharmacy chains become an increasingly disruptive force in healthcare, clinical laboratory managers and pathologists should be preparing new strategies to meet the testing needs of a changing primary care delivery model, which likely will include lab testing being offered in nontraditional medical locations.
Financial losses for hospitals and health systems due to cancelled procedures and coronavirus expenses will lead to changes in healthcare delivery, operations, and clinical laboratory test ordering
COVID-19 is reshaping how people work, shop, and go to school. Is healthcare the next target of the coronavirus-induced transformation? According to two experts, the COVID-19 pandemic is pushing hospitals and health systems toward a “fundamental and likely sustained transformation,” which means clinical laboratories must be prepared to adapt to new provider needs and customer demands.
Burik and Fisher called attention to the staggering $50 billion-per-month loss for hospitals and health systems that was first revealed in an American Hospital Association (AHA) report published in May. The AHA report estimated a $200 billion loss from March 1, 2020, to June 30, 2020, due to increased COVID-19 expenses and cancelled elective and non-elective surgeries.
“Providers face a long-term decrease in commercial payment, coupled with a need to boost caregiver and consumer-facing digital engagement, all during the highest unemployment rate the US has seen since the Great Depression,” he continued. “For organizations in certain locations, it may seem like business as usual. For many others, these issues and greater competition will demand more significant, material change.”
“The figures illustrate how the virus has hurled American medicine into unparalleled volatility. No one knows how long patients will continue to avoid getting elective care or how state restrictions and climbing unemployment will affect their decision making once they have the option,” Burik and Fisher wrote. “All of which leaves one thing for certain: Healthcare’s delivery, operations, and competitive dynamics are poised to undergo a fundamental and likely sustained transformation.”
As a result, the two experts predict these pandemic-related changes to emerge:
Payer-Provider Complexity on the Rise; Patients Will Struggle. As the pandemic has shown, elective services are key revenues for hospitals and health systems. But the pandemic also will leave insured patients struggling with high deductibles, while the number of newly uninsured will grow. Furthermore, upholding of the hospital price transparency ruling will add an unwelcomed spotlight on healthcare pricing and provider margins.
Best-in-Class Technology Will Be a Necessity, Not a Luxury. COVID-19 has been a boon for telehealth and digital health usage, creating what is likely to be a permanent expansion of virtual healthcare delivery. But only one-third of executives surveyed say their organizations currently have the infrastructure to support such a shift, which means investments in speech recognition software, patient information pop-up screens, and other infrastructure to smooth workflows will be needed.
The Tech Giants Are Coming. Both major retailers and technology stalwarts, such as Amazon, Walmart, and Walgreens, are entering the healthcare space. In January, Dark Daily reported on Amazon’s roll out of Amazon Care, a 24/7 virtual clinic, for its Seattle-based employees. Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) is adding to a healthcare portfolio that includes online pharmacy PillPack and joint-venture Haven Healthcare. Meanwhile, Walmart is offering $25 teeth cleaning and $30 checkups at its new Health Centers. Dark Daily covered this in an e-briefing in May, which also covered a new partnership between Walgreens and VillageMD to open up to 700 primary care clinics in 30 US cities in the next five years.
Work Location Changes Mean Construction Cost Reductions. According to Guidehouse’s analysis of the HFMA COVID-19 survey, one-in-five executives expect some jobs to remain virtual post-pandemic, leading to permanent changes in the amount of real estate needed for healthcare delivery. The need for a smaller real estate footprint could reduce capital expenditures and costs for hospitals and healthcare systems in the long term.
Consolidation is Coming. COVID-19-induced financial pressures will quickly reveal winners and losers and force further consolidation in the healthcare industry. “Resilient” healthcare systems are likely to be those with a 6% to 8% operating margins, providing the financial cushion necessary to innovate and reimagine healthcare post-pandemic.
Policy Will Get More Thoughtful and Data-Driven. COVID-19 reopening plans will force policymakers to craft thoughtful, data-driven approaches that will necessitate engagement with health system leaders. Such collaborations will be important not only during this current crisis, but also will provide a blueprint for policy coordination during any future pandemic.
As Burik and Fisher point out, hospitals and healthcare systems emerged from previous economic downturns mostly unscathed. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has proven the exception, leaving providers and health systems facing long-term decreases in commercial payments, while facing increased spending to bolster caregiver- and consumer-facing engagement.
“While situations may differ by market, it’s clear that the pre-pandemic status quo won’t work for most hospitals or health systems,” they wrote.
The message for clinical laboratory managers and surgical pathologists is clear. Patients may be permanently changing their decision-making process when considering elective surgery and selecting a provider, which will alter provider test ordering and lab revenues. Independent clinical laboratories, as well as medical labs operated by hospitals and health systems, must be prepared for the financial stresses that are likely coming.
Amazon is piloting Amazon Care as a benefit for its 53,000
Seattle-area employees and their families, according to published reports. Could
this indicate the world’s largest online retailer is moving into the primary
care space? If so, clinical laboratory leaders will want to follow this
development closely, because the program will need clinical laboratory support.
Amazon has successfully disrupted multiple industries in its
corporate life and some experts speculate Amazon may be using its own employees
to design a new medical delivery model for national roll-out.
The S&P report goes on to state, “In as little as five years, the Seattle-based e-commerce company could interlink its system of capabilities and assets to launch various healthcare products, insurance plans, virtual care services, and digital health monitoring to a broader population. The rollout would be part of a larger plan by Amazon to deliver convenient, cost-effective access to care and medications across the U.S., likely tied to Amazon’s Prime membership program, according to experts.”
Modern Healthcare reported that Amazon Care services include telemedicine and home visits to employees enrolled in an Amazon health insurance plan.
Experts contacted by S&P Global Market Intelligence
Plans a “suite of customized health plans and
services for businesses and consumers;”
May offer health services to its five million
seller business and more than 100 million Amazon Prime members; and
Sees healthcare as a growing market and wants
greater involvement in it.
How Amazon Care Works
Amazon Care offers online, virtual care through a
downloadable mobile device application (app) as well as in-person home care for
certain medical needs, such as:
Colds, allergies, infections, and minor injury;
Preventative consults, vaccines, and lab tests;
Sexual health services; and
General health inquiries.
Becker’s Hospital Review reported that once a participant downloads the Amazon Care app to a smartphone or tablet and signs up for the program, he or she can:
Communicate with healthcare providers via text
Plan personal visits if needed;
Set payment methods in their user profile; and
Receive a “potential diagnosis” and treatment
“The service eliminates travel and wait time, connecting employees and their family members to a physician or nurse practitioner through live chat or voice,” an Amazon spokesperson told CNBC, “with the option for in-person follow-up services from a registered nurse ranging from immunizations to instant strep throat detection.”
The “mobile health nurse” may also collect clinical laboratory
specimens, the Verge
Amazon has partnered with Oasis Medical Group, a family primary care practice in Seattle, to provide healthcare services for Amazon Care patients.
HFMA’s analysis noted that Amazon Care is similar to Haven, a patient advocate organization based in Boston and New York that was created in 2018 by Amazon, JPMorgan Chase, and Berkshire Hathaway to lower healthcare costs and improve outcomes for participating companies.
Tech Crunch reported that in 2018 Amazon also purchased PillPack for nearly $1 billion and integrated its prescription delivery services into Amazon Care.
More recently, Amazon acquired Health Navigator and plans to bring those offerings to Amazon Care as well, CNBC reported. Founded in 2014, Health Navigator provides caregivers with symptom-checking tools that enable remote diagnoses.
Should Telemedicine Firms Be Nervous?
Dark Daily recently reported on Doctor on Demand’s launch of its own virtual healthcare telehealth platform called Synapse. The e-briefing also covered Doctor on Demand’s partnership with Humana (NYSE:HUM) to provide virtual primary care services to the insurer’s health plan members, including online doctor visits at no charge and standard medical laboratory tests for a $5 copayment.
So, should telemedicine firms be concerned about Amazon competing in their marketplace? Business Insider predicts Amazon will need time to beef up its medical resources to serve people online and in-person through Amazon Care.
But that’s the point of Amazon’s pilot, isn’t it? What comes
from it will be interesting to watch.
“Meanwhile, telemedicine firms can ink strategic
partnerships and strengthen their existing payer relationships to safeguard
against Amazon’s surge into the space,” Business Insider advised.
It remains to be seen how medical laboratory testing and reports
would fit into an expanded Amazon Care health network. Or, how clinical laboratories
will get “in-network” with Amazon Care, as it grows to serve customers beyond
As Dark Daily recently advised, medical laboratory leaders will want to ensure their lab’s inclusion in virtual care networks, which someday may include Amazon Care.