Walgreens offers virtual doctor visits through app in mhealth expansion

Walgreens is giving California and Michigan users of its Web site and mobile application round-the-clock access to doctors in its latest deep dive into the growing mobile health space.

The service, which will be gradually rolled out to other states and markets, lets users consult virtually with MDLive certified physicians who can also prescribe medication for a range of acute conditions. It is an example of how mobile can be deployed to offer consumers more choice for convenient care as pharmacy chains move deeper into the healthcare-services field.

?It?s another way we can provide greater convenience, and access to healthcare where, when and how people may want it,? said Jim Cohn, Walgreens spokesman.. ?We talk a lot about convenience in a physical sense by having our retail stores on some of the best corners in America. 

?Now we?re pushing the envelope further using technology ? so we?re extending the importance of convenience and access into the digital realm,? he said. 

Chat tools
The service is available through both Apple iOS and Android versions of the Walgreens mobile app.

The app?s offerings already include digital prescription refills, medicine reminders and pharmacy chat tools.

Mobile and telehealth: the way of the future?

In the latest expansion of Walgreens? healthcare services, users anywhere can skip going to a doctor?s office or hospital emergency department and receive an on-the-spot examination from a certified physician via a mobile device. If a prescription is necessary, the physician can call it into the local pharmacy.

The prospect of having to travel to an office and waiting to be seen by the doctor puts people off going to the doctor and engaging with the health care system, according to a video on MDLive?s Web site.

More connected and convenience-driven consumers are turning to telehealth as their choice to access health care services. The move lets Walgreens, a leader in mobile, differentiate itself from other pharmacy brands such as CVS that are branching out into the mobile pharmacy sector.

?This partnership definitely follows the trend we're seeing in healthcare to a greater mobile-based presence,? said Kavin Shah, vice president and group medical director for DigitasLBi. ?Mobile and telehealth are knocking at our door, and it's just a matter of time before this becomes mainstream. 

?Many common ailments can be diagnosed remotely, with the use of handheld devices and apps that seamlessly integrate into a mobile platform,? he said.

MDLive, Sunrise, FL, caters to consumers, employers, payers, hospitals, physician practice groups and accountable care organizations. It works with physicians and therapists, nationwide to provide 24/7 connected care.

The expansion comes a month after Walgreens extended its mobile pharmacy leadership via a new partnership with WebMD that will drive smartphone use for prescription refills and wellness-driven rewards.

?Telemedicine fits into Walgreens overall mobile strategy as well as our greater vision of bringing about greater access and convenience at more affordable cost,? Mr. Cohn said. ?Through telemedicine, you?re getting quality care that is more convenient and more cost effective than a trip to the doctor?s office, in many cases. 

?While some health plans continue to evaluate whether or not they will cover telemedicine, it is our belief that payors will embrace the idea more universally,? he said. 

Fact-finding
The program allows Walgreens consumers to gather information while shopping for health care products on their mobile devices or in stores.

Last year, Walgreens, the nation's largest drugstore chain, launched its Pharmacy Chat feature, which allows users to chat live 24/7 with pharmacy staff. 

?Like most of the healthcare system today, interconnectivity remains a work in progress, but mobile will play a very important role in providing more convenient and seamless access to consumers,? Mr. Cohn said. 

?Walgreens has already taken the lead here by building the infrastructure for improved connectivity by ensuring all of our pharmacists at all stores have an electronic medical record platform for inputting clinical information such as immunizations and health testing,? he said.

?We will continue to work with our health system partners to improve convenience across the continuum and further drive innovation in healthcare.?

A deep dive into mobile health.

About 20,000 people per month are connecting new devices to Walgreens? app, Mr. Cohn said. 

?Use of technology to connect people to the services in our store is growing rapidly and we hope to see similar traction with this new initiative,? he said.
 
?We believe that increasingly, this is where more patients will want to be able to access care.  For example, we launched an immunization app this season (flu), we?re giving customers rewards for healthy behaviors like eating right, steps/exercise, smoking cessation.  

?It?s all geared toward helping people better manage their health and driving customer loyalty, and mobile will play an increasingly important role in being able to do that,? he said.

Final Take
Michael Barris is staff reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York