Pharmacy Chains Continue to Blur the Line

Anyone questioning whether retail pharmacies want to become big players in the healthcare game should take a look at their recent clinical and technological moves. Since the beginning of 2014:

  • The two largest retail pharmacy companies in the nation, Walgreen Co. and CVS Caremark, joined with three former U.S. senators, five telehealth companies, plus Verizon Communications, health insurance giant WellPoint, medical device-maker Welch Allyn and medical supplier Cardinal Health to form the Alliance for Connected Care. This group, as Health Data Management has reported, will promote telehealth and remote patient monitoring by advocating for federal and state policy changes.
  • CVS, Walgreens, Kroger Co., Rite Aid and Safeway all endorsed the Blue Button initiative as an easy way for pharmacy customers an easy way to download and share their prescription records via a Web portal or mobile app. They were joined by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations and the Pharmacy Health IT Collaborative, which represents nine national professional pharmacy associations. The five retail chains have pledged to collaborate on "standardizing patient prescription information to fuel the growth of private-sector applications and services that can add value to this basic health information," according to a White House statement.
  • Walgreens signed a deal with Bowie, Md.-based healthcare analytics company Inovalon to offer an automated patient assessment system for the more than 400 Walgreens Healthcare Clinic locations across the company.
  • CVS started a pilot of telehealth services at 28 MinuteClinic locations in Southern California so offsite nurse practitioners can assist licensed vocational nurses serving patients in person. The Woonsocket, R.I.-based chain expects to bring the pilot to an unspecified second state later this year.
  • CVS contracted with electronic health records vendor Epic Systems to replace the home-grown EHR currently serving the more than 800 MinuteClinic sites in 28 states and the District of Columbia.
  • Interestingly, CVS Caremark also joined the CommonWell Health Alliance, a coalition of health IT vendors committed to interoperability of health data. Allscripts, athenahealth, Cerner,  Greenway Health and McKesson started CommonWell in 2013, largely as a response to the perception that Epic was reluctant to connect to other vendors' systems.
  • Rite Aid launched the Rite Aid Health Alliance, a series of partnerships among traditional healthcare providers and care management service company Health Dialog to improve the health of people with multiple chronic diseases. Pharmacists as well as Health Dialog coaches in Rite Aid stores will work with patients and their physicians to manage conditions such as congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, high cholesterol and diabetes. This program is starting in Buffalo, N.Y., Greensboro-High Point, N.C., and the Los Angeles area.
  • The CEO of Wegmans Food Markets, an upscale supermarket chain in the Northeast that also operates a national online pharmacy, wrote to New York state legislators urging them heed Gov. Andrew Cuomo's request to appropriate $65 million to the Statewide Health Information Exchange, known as SHIN-NY. "As a large, self-insured employer, Wegmans benefits from lower healthcare costs. The use of the SHIN-NY which allows for swift and confidential transferring of electronic health records, has been shown to lower healtcaare costs in our region and throughout the state," said Danny Wegman.
  • Higi, a startup company supported by hip-hop artist Lupe Fiasco, announced plans to put 4,100 kiosks in Rite Aid stores by early 2015, offering, basic self-service health screening. Chicago-based Higi already has contracts with several regional supermarket chains, while competitor SoloHealth has screening kiosks in 2,500 Walmart locations.
  • In perhaps the biggest news of the year so far from drug stores, CVS said it would stop selling tobacco products in all its stores by Oct. 1, even though it would cost the company $2 billion in annual revenue.

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