Everybody knows the Walgreens brand. As one of the nation’s leading drugstore chain, Walgreens has 8,200 retail stores in the United States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. But another growing part of the Walgreens story is the Walgreens Healthcare Clinic business. Today, more than 350 Walgreens Healthcare Clinics offer a wide range of family focused healthcare services at select locations nationwide.
Striving to provide personalized, expert healthcare services that are easily accessed, the Walgreens Healthcare Clinic business serves drop-in patients as well as those who schedule an online appointment. The clinics accept most insurance, and they offer cash patients with options that are more affordably priced than traditional physician office, urgent care and emergency room visits.
The organization has adopted a two-pronged growth strategy for the Walgreens Healthcare Clinic business. The first is focused on building a strong, viable model for retail clinics within its stores and growing its business by expanding the range of offered services, and by leveraging technology in new ways to improve the patient experience.
“We are making significant investments in our core business, such as a new electronic health record (EHR) platform being implemented this year, to accelerate this part of our growth plan,” says Pat Carroll, MD, chief medical officer for Walgreens Healthcare. “The second component of our growth strategy is to explore new, innovative partnerships with community health systems. We’ve entered into discussions with select health systems to explore a collaborative services model that fully integrates retail clinics into the health system care plan and care continuum – with the health system managing and operating the clinics in our stores. We’ve announced three agreements, with Providence Health and Services, Advocate Health Care and SSM Health.”
One element driving the development of Walgreens Healthcare Clinics is the trend of retailization. Consumers are more open to care in alternative environments, and retail clinics continue to play an important role in healthcare today by providing affordable, high-quality and convenient care for millions of patients.
“Our data has shown that 40 percent of healthcare clinic patients say if it weren’t for our clinics, they would either go to a more costly point of care or may not seek treatment at all, potentially resulting in greater complications and more significant healthcare costs in the long run,” Carroll says. “Walgreens Healthcare Clinics provide services designed to facilitate coordinated care while helping to improve outcomes, increase patient satisfaction and lower total medical costs.”
The speed of change in healthcare overall is another factor that is influencing the direction of Walgreens Healthcare Clinics. It is no secret that the healthcare landscape is evolving rapidly. Changes like the Affordable Care Act, health systems’ value-based care models and retailization of healthcare all influence the way consumers access healthcare services.
“Throughout Walgreens and within Walgreens Healthcare Clinics, we are continually evaluating strategies to respond to these market changes and position our business for long-term success so that we can continue to invest in valuable services to best meet patient needs and care for more people in more ways,” Carroll says.
Partnership agreements will also continue play a role in Walgreens Healthcare Clinic operations. Partnerships are a key component of the company’s strategic growth plans and one of the important ways that the company is evolving its business to meet the needs of patients and the healthcare system. By entering into discussions with select health systems, the company can explore a collaborative services model that fully integrates retail clinics into the health system care plan and care continuum.
“For our partnering health systems, they benefit from expanded access to patients, as well as the ability to provide convenient access to retail healthcare services,” Carroll says. “There are also opportunities to integrate select Walgreens pharmacy programs and services.”
As Walgreens works to ensure efficiency at its sites, it is also working to make sure that it is providing the right services that patients need while offering collaborative care along the continuum. To improve access and meet the needs of the patients in its communities, Walgreens Healthcare Clinic provides a wide range of healthcare services, including preventive services such as immunizations; acute care; and assessment, treatment and management of certain chronic conditions such as hypertension, hyperlipidemia, diabetes and asthma.
“We believe the services offered position our clinics to help to bridge the gap in primary care access, and we strongly encourage all patients to have a primary care physician for ongoing medical needs and routine exams,” Carroll says. “Our clinics can play an important role by supporting and complementing physician practices, offering convenient access to care and fostering continuity of patient care.”
All the while, the company is careful to make sure that its services do not cause fragmentation of care. One of the goals for the Walgreens Healthcare Clinic business has always been to connect more patients to the healthcare system and to help ensure care coordination. The company has always strongly recommended that patients have a primary care provider, and that the role of the clinics is to complement provider practices while also facilitating continuity of patient care.
Regarding its affiliations and partnerships, the company’s model is designed to enhance care coordination. It can also help facilitate the transition of retail healthcare from urgent episodic to more coordinated care.
“And while we are implementing a new EHR at our Walgreens-managed clinics, with our health system partners’ EHRs, they can connect directly to the clinics to create a seamless experience no matter where a patient chooses to access care,” Carroll says.
In fact, Walgreens Healthcare Clinics are currently in the process of transitioning to the Epic EHR platform to further enhance care coordination among providers while also supporting the long-term growth plan for the clinic business. The company recently announced a transition to the Epic platform to enable more seamless communication with health systems and local providers, and to continue to deepen its relationships with health systems. At the same time, the company is exploring innovative new collaboration models that can benefit patients, payers and the healthcare system at large.
Among the biggest challenges and priorities for Walgreens Healthcare Clinic is the growing need to provide access to personalized care, which is one of the biggest challenges facing the entire healthcare system. Fortunately, consumers can rely on Walgreens Healthcare Clinic and its nurse practitioners to serve as a trusted source of quality care.
“Our people have been instrumental in driving patient engagement and working in coordination with physicians and other primary care providers to foster continuity of care to support more patients,” Carroll says.