Walgreens' relationship to Theranos has been a recent distraction that has obscured other news about the company's overarching digital and telehealth strategy. I began blogging six years ago about the emergence of what was then called "walk-in clinics" in retail pharmacies (see: A New Version of the Walk-In Retail Health Clinic Launches in Walgreens). Walgreens has now launched its Walgreens Connect app which is a gateway to its Balance Rewards program (see: Competition heats up for patient-generated health data). Details are provided in the following excerpt from the article:
The number of tools to track patient health data has exploded in recent years, and the race to access that information is heating up as well. Walgreens this week launched its Walgreens Connect app, which allows participants of its Balance Rewards program to get 20 points each time they take their blood pressure or test their blood sugar with a branded monitor that can be purchased in-store. The move is one prong of Walgreens' larger digital and telehealth strategy, which also includes offering telemedicine services through its partnership with [on-line physician service] MDLive. The pharmacy giant this week expanded that relationship into 20 additional states, bringing the total number to 25. It also has a partnership with WebMD to offer virtual wellness-coaching sessions....Data collected through the Walgreens Connect app is stored in the cloud through a partnership with Qualcomm. Balance Rewards points can be redeemed for money off store purchases....Software companies like [digital health platforms] Welltok and Validic have built a business model of creating a single entry point for providers, insurers and employers to access a wealth of patient data from sources ranging from FitBit to dLife. Other innovators are trying to make the data more usable for providers so they don't become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of it. Stage 3 of the meaningful-use rules also encourages the use of patient-generated data in electronic health records.
This is the way I see this retail pharmacy/healthcare consumer "ecosystem" developing, at least in the short term. Health conscious consumers will purchase a wrist monitoring device like FitBit or have access to an app on their smartphones like the Apple Health app. They may also install on their smartphones the new Walgreens Connect app which gives them access to the Balance Rewards program and earn points toward store discounts when they monitor their blood sugar or blood pressure on devices purchased at Walgreens. In time, these physiologic monitoring apps will be integrated into smart phones. The Walgreens Connect app is linked to the cloud for data storage using Qualcomm technology. In a previous note, I discussed home monitoring of discharged hospital patients for cost savings using Qualcomm technology (see: Home Monitoring of Discharged Patients by Hospitals for Cost Savings).
I view lab testing as an emerging and essential component of the health ecosystem of the retail drug store chains. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that Walgreens established a relationship with Theranos which is now on hold due to uncertainty about the quality and maturity of the Theranos technology (see: Walgreens Scrutinizes Theranos Testing). I have grave doubts whether the Walgreens/Theranos partnership will survive. If severed, Walgreens might consider turning to Quest or LabCorp as a substitute for the Theranos lab testing services. Both of these national reference laboratories have demonstrated an interest in direct access testing (DAT) (see: LabCorp to Offer Direct Access Lab Testing (DAT) to Consumers; Sonora Quest Competes with Theranos in Arizona with DAT Services). Certain in my mind is that both CVS and Walgreens are building what will become an important primary care network staffed mainly by nurse practitioners (NPs) but also with access to virtual physician visits (see: A Solution to the PCP Shortage: Nurse Practitioners; Future key Role of Nurse Practitioners in Primary Care; Not All NPs and PAs Choose to Work in Primary Care; What's the Problem?).