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Florida Hospital, Supermarket Chain Launch Telehealth Partnership

Florida's BayCare Health System is opening Publix pharmacies in several of its hospitals, in exchange for mHealth stations and telehealth clinics in Publix supermarkets.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- An innovative telehealth partnership between a Florida health system and a supermarket pharmacy chain is creating new business lines for connected care.

The BayCare Health System recently opened Public pharmacies at three hospitals – St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa, St. Anthony’s Hospital’s Suncoast Medical Clinic in St. Petersburg and Morton Plant Hospital’s Doyle Tower in Clearwater – completing the first phase in a three-pronged effort to push telehealth services out to the community.

In exchange for giving Publix an inroads to the hospital pharmacy business (two more hospitals are soon slated to open pharmacies, and five more are planned), the supermarket chain will, by the end of this year, open mHealth kiosks for its customers in several markets. The branded BayCare HealthHubs will offer mHealth devices to measure pulse, weight, body mass index and blood pressure, as well as free health and wellness information, and include a secure channel so that users can send their biometric data to their doctor.

In addition, within two years, the health system will open roughly 25 telehealth clinics at Publix supermarkets, allowing visitors to connect remotely with a physician for non-emergency care.

“We are excited about this important step in providing seamless, connected care that improves health and care delivery,” BayCare Executive Vice President and COO Glenn Waters said in a press release earlier this month. “Our care doesn’t end when a patient leaves a BayCare hospital and neither should our medication management for our patients.”

The deal allows Publix to handle each hospital’s in-house pharmacy tasks, including prescription delivery and refills. It also gives the company leverage to funnel health system patients to pharmacies in Publix’ four-county area of operations.

“It isn’t just about filling prescriptions as patients leave the hospital - it’s about providing a continuum of convenient medical care,” Publix Vice President Fred Ottolino said in March, when the three-pronged partnership was announced.

The BayCare-Publix partnership is the latest in a string of business deals designed to outsource hospital pharmacy operations while boosting a health system’s presence in the community with mHealth and telehealth platforms.

The move works both ways. Walgreens, for example, had experimented with running its own on-site retail clinics before turning over control of 25 clinics in Washington and Oregon to Providence Health in 2105 and handing over management of more than 50 Chicago-area clinics to Advocate Health Care in early 2016.

One of Walgreens’ chief competitors, meanwhile, took a different tack.  In 2015, CVS Health opened a number of store-based clinics offering links to some of the largest consumer-facing telehealth services, including American Well, Teladoc and Doctor On Demand.

The challenge lies in finding the right partnership – and they don’t always work.

In 2015, Rite Aid launched a partnership with kiosk maker HealthSpot to open roughly two dozen clinics in select stores in Ohio, offering telehealth links to health systems like the Cleveland Clinic, Kettering Health Network and University Hospitals, as well as pediatric services from UH Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital.

That deal fell apart when the 40-square-foot kiosks ultimately became too expensive to maintain, and HealthSpot eventually went bankrupt.

More recently, some large health systems have opted to turn their pharmacy into its own telemedicine platform, offering the service in a hub-and-spoke model to smaller health systems.

“We’re extending the pharmacist into the clinical setting,” Sarah Pletcher, former director of Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center’s Center for Telehealth said in 2016, when the New Hampshire-based health system launched its telepharmacy service with the help of PipelineRx. “There’s a lot that a pharmacist can offer” clinicians at the point of care, such as drug dosing and interaction information, medication management guidelines, even information on alternatives or generics.

“We’ve begun to really appreciate the power of integration,” she said, adding that the telepharmacy network could, in time, be extended to other settings, like clinics, senior nursing facilities and medical offices. “Our goal really is to effect a virtual health system” that can draw on the best resources – no matter where they’re located – to improve the clinical outcome.

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