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Pharmacies Look to Telehealth Partnerships to Keep Clinics Running

Walgreens' deals with Providence Health and Advocate Health may signal a shift in the management of retail clinics. They may also give health systems a new telehealth platform to develop in pharmacies.

By Eric Wicklund

- An announcement out of Chicago today might signal a new trend in retail healthcare.

Advocate Health Care, one of the Midwest’s largest health systems, has announced that it will take over 56 retail clinics in Walgreens locations in and around Chicago. The clinics, to be branded as Advocate Clinics at Walgreens and staffed by Advocate nurse practitioners, will debut under the new management plan in May and will have integrated EMR and billing platforms.

Last August, Deerfield, Ill.-based Walgreens turned over control of 25 retail clinics in Washington and Oregon to Seattle-area-based Providence Health.

The news marks a subtle shift in the retail healthcare landscape, as providers look to extend care management beyond the hospital’s walls and pharmacies seek to reinforce their standing as health centers. Most of the nation’s estimated 2,800 retail pharmacy clinics are operated as stand-alone clinics or run in conjunction with telemedicine providers, but they aren’t making a positive impact on the pharmacy chain’s bottom line and in some places are proving more of a nuisance to manage.

By partnering with a health system, pharmacies can trumpet their connection with the local, traditional healthcare provider network as part of a coordinated health management program. Providers, meanwhile, can extend their reach out to sites most often visited by consumers when they’re sick and don’t want to head to the doctor’s office or ER.

Adding pharmacies to that integrated network will become important as they transition to an Accountable Care Organization or some similar platform of care delivery.

Walgreens is betting on this partnership as it prepares for its acquisition of Rite-Aid, announced last October. Its chief rival, CVS, has expanded to roughly 1,000 MinuteClinics and recently purchased some 80 pharmacies and walk-in clinics from Target for almost $2 billion.

“Advocate Clinic at Walgreens expands Advocate's care delivery locations to provide more options for patients and meet the needs of consumers in an evolving healthcare environment,” Lee Sacks, MD, Advocate’s chief medical officer and executive vice president, said in a press release. “With Walgreens’ unmatched footprint coupled with our leading clinical expertise and commitment to delivering high quality, affordable health care, more patients will have access to the best care when and where they need it.”

The symbiosis goes both ways. Walgreens currently operates its own on-site pharmacies in three of Advocate’s 12 hospitals, and has plans to open three more.

Officials further said they weren’t giving up on their own clinics, which now number about 350.

“We believe this approach will help ensure a true continuum of care for patients and their providers,” Pat Carroll, MD, chief medical officer for Walgreens Healthcare Clinics, said in the press release. “This is also an emphasis for our Walgreens-managed clinics, where we continue to make investments, such as a new EHR platform, to offer patient benefits through a variety of convenient care options.”


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