Consumers can access a physician anytime, anywhere on a computer or mobile device using a downloadable Walgreens app
As the national pharmacy chains take progressive steps to add more health services inside their retail stores, the day draws ever closer when they may want to add medical laboratory testing services to their menu of in-store clinical services.
At the moment, telemedicine physician consults is one healthcare service finding favor with several of the nation’s largest pharmacy chain companies. Recently, Walgreens (NYSE:WBA) of Deerfield, IL, signed an agreement with telemedicine vendor MDLIVE of Sunrise, Florida, to provide virtual doctor visits.
With this agreement, Walmart becomes the latest national pharmacy chain to offer telemedicine services within its retail stores. However, unlike competitors Rite Aid (NYSE:RAD), CVS (NYSE:CVS), and Walmart (NYSE:WMT), which are currently implementing in-store telemedicine services, Walgreens is providing this service via a downloadable app. Walgreens says this allows customers to access board-certified physicians and mental health specialists anytime and anywhere from a computer or mobile device—not just from within a Walgreens pharmacy.
Clinical laboratory managers and pathologists should not overlook the fact that, by offering telemedicine services within their stores, these pharmacy chains are perfectly positioned to then sell patients the therapeutic drugs prescribed by physicians involved in these teleconsults. It is the perfect example of a “captive customer,” since the individual has only to walk a few steps from the telemedicine kiosk to the pharmacy counter to pick up his or her prescription.
Walgreens First Telemedicine Retailer to Offer Access to Mental Health Services
Similar to its competitors, Walgreens offers virtual doctor visits for non-emergency medical issues. However, Walgreens claims that it is the first retailer to offer virtual visits with mental health specialists. MDLIVE added behavioral health services to its telemedicine program last fall, following its acquisition of Breakthrough Behavioral, a teletherapy provider located in Silicon Valley.
Already available in California, Michigan and Illinois, Walgreens’ telehealth service will be rolled out in 25 states nationally by year’s end. It will offer users access to board-certified physicians 24/7 through Walgreens IOS and Android mobile device apps.
“Offering mobile and virtual access to board-certified doctors is a natural extension of the robust range of health services that Walgreens already offers,” said Harry Leider, M.D., Walgreens’ Chief Medical Officer, in a Walgreens press release.
“For the first time, a drugstore’s website and mobile app users can share the convenience of accessing a board-certified doctor who can also e-prescribe medication when appropriate, via a secure, online video platform,” noted Randy Parker, CEO of MDLIVE, in the Walgreens press release.
Walgreens Offers In-store Clinical Lab Services
Walgreens has been at the forefront of the interactive digital revolution. In his keynote address at the HIMSS15 conference in April, Walgreens President Alex Gourlay detailed new service ideas that are becoming reality, noted a Hospitals & Health Networks Daily report.
The company last year launched Pharmacy Chat, a live chat service offering users 24/7 access to a pharmacist.
In addition, Walgreens partnered with:
• WebMD to establish a digital health-coaching platform,
• PatientsLikeMe, which provides patients with chronic conditions a free social network to track their health data, connect with others with similar conditions and contribute data for research, and,
• Theranos, a CLIA-certified clinical laboratory operator to establish Wellness Centers in 41 Walgreens stores in California and Arizona to provide customers walk-up, in-store laboratory testing services.
It remains to be seen whether offering an onsite medical laboratory testing service, like that of Theranos, provides Walgreens’ telemedicine service an advantage over its competitors. But it is recognized that having timely medical lab tests as part of a telemedicine consult is both useful and convenient for customers.
At a minimum, Walgreens’ latest move to expand telemedicine services throughout its network of 8,400 pharmacies reflects the company’s strategy to be more of a full-service neighborhood healthcare provider than just a local pharmacy. At a maximum, should the telemedicine service prove to both popular with consumers and profitable to Walgreens, then a move to add more rapid diagnostic services within these stores would be logical business strategy.