One of the country’s largest pharmacy chains is planning a digital health platform for customers, linking them to established care providers.

Walgreens is rolling out the service, called Find Care Now, offering it as a marketplace that helps connect its mobile and online visitors to healthcare services, with the intent of improving patient access to local health services.

Company executives say the initiative will help connect customers to services at Walgreen stores as well as community providers. As of this week, Walgreens has cemented relationships with 17 provider organizations in a variety of markets.

Find Care Now is intended to help Walgreens customers navigate and search for local and digital healthcare services. The Deerfield, Ill.-based pharmacy chain says offerings in some markets will include a range of provider options, such as neighborhood health care clinics, urgent care, telehealth, lab testing, physician second opinions, with even physician house calls and optical and hearing services available in some markets.

The range of providers offer alternatives to emergency department services at hospitals, generally the most expensive option available. Some Walgreens stores have urgent care centers within them.

“Through market research, our customers showed they would welcome Walgreens as an online source of information about healthcare solutions and telemedicine,” says Giovanni Monti, vice president and director of healthcare innovation for Walgreens Boots Alliance. “By combining digital assets with our strong local footprint, Walgreens offers a unique and convenient model for patients to find care built around their needs.”

Over time, Walgreens will add more features to Find Care Now, Monti adds.

Find Care Now is accessible through the Health Services section of the Walgreens mobile app and online on the Walgreens web site. Care service options are made available based upon a user’s location and health condition, ensuring convenient and relevant results are always offered. Users can view cash pricing information and also have the ability to schedule visits or complete virtual consultations in some markets.

Participating healthcare provider organizations include:

  • Advocate Health Care, Chicago.
  • Baptist Health, Jacksonville, Fla.
  • Community Health Network, Indianapolis.
  • Florida Hospital, Tampa.
  • Heal, on-demand doctor house calls in California, Washington, DC, and Northern Virginia.
  • MDLIVE, national telehealth service.
  • MedExpress Urgent Care, an Optum company and provider of neighborhood medical care.
  • NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in collaboration with Weill Cornell Medicine and Columbia University Irving Medical Center, New York.
  • Piedmont Healthcare, Atlanta.
  • Providence St. Joseph Health, including Providence Express Care in Portland, Oregon, and Swedish Express Care in Seattle.
  • SSM Health, St. Louis.
  • UHealth – The University of Miami Health System, Miami.

Some analysts see the move as pre-emptive as Walgreens seeks to provide a range of services and create affiliations with an increasing number of local provider organizations. The company is responding to expansion efforts from CVS, which is offering to buy health insurer Aetna, and the expected move of Amazon into the pharmacy market.

Walgreens is bracing itself against Amazon’s expansion into healthcare with its new digital platform, Find Care Now, which offers an accessible emergency-room alternative through select local providers, and that's a key factor that Amazon cannot yet claim, some experts contend. With a disconnect between heavy digital health investment and slow consumer adoption, the familiar elements of Walgreen’s platform might be the secret to getting patients on board with digital health tools.

“Digital health solutions are turnkey approaches that don’t require significant IT investment, enabling more doctors and insurers to address the needs of more patients, without the limitations of distance, lack of staff or costly infrastructure,” , says Dedi Gilad, CEO of telehealth innovator Tyto Care, which is backed by Walgreens. “A number of health systems are using this model with great success, and we anticipate that many more will follow suit.”

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