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Main Street Meets Healthcare

Covid-19 made every aspect of healthcare change. Some I would argue for the better, and some I would say for the worse. Telehealth and "e" visits from smartphones or laptops allowed patients to see their primary care or specialty doctor using the camera of their phone or laptop versus an in-person visit. For some during a pandemic, this is fast, easy, and perhaps safer. However, for others like a person that is not technically savvy and/or someone that may need an in-person visit to get proper vitals taken, and allowing the doctor to see the entire patient picture, it was complex, frustrating, and forced many patients had to wait for in-person appointments because the doctors were doing most of their appointments virtually.

I can tell from experience I had a family member that needed to be seen in person, and telehealth appointments were all that was available. This was an impossible task for this person. The appointment was critical, so to keep it, I had to go to his house, download the application on my phone, test it, ensure the link worked and open the application at the appointment time and try and get my family member to understand that they had to talk into the picture on my phone screen.

Telehealth has its pros, but it is a nightmare and impossible for an older, non-technical person. Telehealth visits have their place for medicine discussions, basic, non-threatening illnesses like a sinus infection. Still, so many things are lost in this form of healthcare, and provider administrators need to be mindful of who they are making these appointments with. If you are making an appointment with an 83-year-old with a flip phone, it will not work.

It was announced this week that Walgreens Boots Alliance said Thursday that it has agreed to become the majority owner of VillageMD, as it opens hundreds of doctor offices with the primary-care company.

As part of the deal, the drugstore chain will invest $5.2 billion in VillageMD. That will increase Walgreens' ownership stake from 30% to 63%. VillageMD will remain an independent company with its own management and board. Walgreens said it expects the deal to close by the end of this year, pending regulatory approval.

With the move, Walgreens is following in the footsteps of competitors, including CVS Health and Walmart. Many CVS stores already have a MinuteClinic, which administers vaccines and offers walk-in, urgent care appointments. CVS is also turning more stores into a HealthHub, which has a wider range of medical services like testing for sleep apnea and management of diabetes. Walmart is opening a growing number of primary clinics with a low-cost model, but so far, they are concentrated in Georgia, Florida and the Chicago area.

There are a lot of moving parts with these types of mergers of care. The one-stop "shopping" may be appealing to some. Some of the pros are:

  • Seeing a healthcare provider and getting your prescriptions all in one step

  • Locations in inner-city areas giving those with difficulties getting to appointments more availability and flexibility

  • Ideally, all of your records would be in one place (prescriptions and doctor visit notes)

  • They will allow walk-in visits as well as annual checkups

  • Continue Telehealth appointments and offer home care visits

I think some cons may be:

  • Quality of the healthcare provider

  • Medical Walmart type medicine (10-minute belt-like conveyor appointments)

  • Sometimes it is best to leave disciplines separate. The ease of getting your prescription in the same place you just saw your doctor is appealing but because it is all under one roof,. you might see corners cut that could be dangerous

  • Malpractice could be an issue as it is with any provider but, "clinic" like providers generally have a higher rate of patient mistakes

  • Providing "primary care" healthcare to a patient that needs more "specialized" care (i.e., a general practitioner providing healthcare and meds to a psychiatric patient that needs a psychiatric workup and not a ten-minute general medicine discussion.

The move to offer a wider range of medical services at Walgreens stores may prove risky for the company, but it is following in the footsteps of competitors. CVS Health and Walmart have already made similar moves with their retail locations. Although these changes will likely be successful, they could also pose some risks for Walgreens moving forward if customers don't respond well or there are any unforeseen complications like customer confusion about store hours or wait times. However, if this risk pays off and helps them stay competitive in today's market, we'll see more drugstores offering health care services soon enough! What do you think? Will consumers buy into this new direction from Walgreen's?

Melissa Mullamphy ©


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