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Walgreens Gets Into Telemedicine

U.S retail pharmacy giant Walgreens has announced a partnership with telemedicine company MDLive to offer its customers 24-hr access to medical assistance via digital health technology. How will this move affect the U.S healthcare and telehealth industry? A recent Forbes article discusses the impact of this move.

Lowering the cost of offering healthcare services is one of the most obvious drives behind healthcare companies entering into the telehealth market. For instance, MDLive’s “virtual visit” or consultation with a physician is priced at $49, and may cost even less depending on the customer’s health insurance coverage. Moreover, with reimbursement options opening up for remote healthcare providers, major drugstore chains like Walgreen, CVS Health (CVS), and Walmart Stores are stepping into remote healthcare to gain from these benefits.

This, however, is not Walgreens’ first brush with telemedicine. The drugstore giant had forayed into telehealth last year when it launched a “pharmacy chat” feature that connects customers with the company’s pharmacists and staff around-the-clock. From this perspective, its deal with MDLive can be viewed as an extension of its telehealth services with a broader reach.  For now, Walgreens will make this service available to its customers in California and Michigan, with “plans to rollout to additional states and markets over time.”

The article cites Walgreens’ chief medical officer, Dr. Harry Leider, as he explained the company’s vision with regard to telehealth, “We are going to be getting into the telemedicine space where you consult a board certified physician from your computer, your tablet, or your phone,” Leider said in an interview at the 2014 Forbes Healthcare Summit. “We are extending this idea of convenience into the digital space.”

Digital health technology is being supported by factors such as the Affordable Care Act and insurance payment trends that are gradually taking patient care out of the hospital and putting choices into the customers’ hands. The current focus is on improving treatment and continuity of care while reducing the overall medical expenses.

The full impact of telemedicine remains to be seen as more and more companies jump on board. It will be interesting to watch how Walgreen’s adoption will pave the way for telehealth in the retail sector.

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