CHICAGO — Another day, another service that retail pharmacy giant Walgreens is adding to its repertoire to lure customers and heal a pain point for patients.
We all know that the Deerfield, Ill.-based chain is working to own the pharmacy game with its large network of stores. A couple of years back, Walgreens made a splash in the health care business, when it announced plans to help consumers monitor and treat chronic conditions. These days, the company continues to innovate and nibble at the corners of the health care business.
During the opening keynote address at the HIMSS15 conference Monday morning, Walgreens President Alex Gourlay detailed some of the new service ideas that are becoming a reality. Mobile technology, of course, is a big focus, with everything from video consults with a doctor through the Walgreens app, to digital health coaching via text chatting. Sweeping reach and a strong name in the market alone aren’t enough to excel in the future health care market, Gourlay told attendees.
“In 30 years, we believe a great brand, great scale and solid performance will not be enough to survive, unless you make the very best of the assets you have,” he says. “And the reason for that, really, is that the customer is starting to change.”
Walgreens’ assets go beyond its more than 8,200 drugstores, 70,000 health care service providers and 8 million customer interactions with its brand every day. The company is pushing aggressively into the mobile app arena — it has the third most-downloaded application among all retailers and first most-downloaded for retailers with brick and mortar stores, with more than 10 million downloads.
Partnering with telehealth vendor MDLIVE, Walgreens has started allowing its customers to connect with a doctor any time of day through video in the store's app. There, patients can engage a clinician and talk over a number of different acute conditions, and even get a prescription. Already, the service is available in California and Michigan, with plans to roll it out here in Illinois next month, and in a total of 25 states by year-end.
This comes on the heels of Walgreens' January announcement that it was partnering with WebMD to launch a digital health coaching platform, allowing customers to create their own health goals, make wellness action plans and use interactive programs to quit smoking or lose weight. About 50,000 customers already have signed up. Walgreens is also using WebMD’s content to help build out store displays with eye-level info about medications on shelves.
There's a bunch of other things the drugstore is rolling out — everything from partnering with social network PatientsLikeMe to add information to its website about past patient experiences with medications, to rolling out a health app in the near future for Apple’s new iWatch. Walgreens is constantly aiming to innovate, Gourlay says, seeking partners and peeking around corners to see what patients might want next.
"We truly believe that patient-led and consumer-powered is not important just today, but will be even more powerful in the future," he says.