Trying to reposition themselves for the healthcare business model of the future, Walgreens, Rite Aid and even Wegmans are among the major retailer-pharmacies that are expanding their involvement in “telehealth” offerings. At the same time, the legal and regulatory environment is growing more complex for services in which doctors and other health-care professionals digitally and remotely provide medical advice.
Walgreens has expanded its telehealth service—which it provides in partnership with MDLIVE—to Colorado, Illinois and Washington state. It already offered telehealth services via its mobile app to customers in California and Michigan. The nation’s largest drugstore also said that users now can access the platform via the Walgreens website on tablets and desktops in those states. It plans to expand even further, adding 20 more states by the end of the year.
“Our society truly values anytime, anywhere convenience,” Adam Pellegrini, Walgreens divisional vice president of digital health, said in a press release. “Our society truly values anytime, anywhere convenience. And with a growing need for access to affordable health care services, we believe telehealth solutions can play an important role in helping to improve patient outcomes and continue our mission to provide a seamless, omnichannel digital health experience.”
To retain its leadership position in an industry that is rapidly shifting due to Obamacare, the changing profile of healthcare providers and digital technologies, among other reasons, Walgreens is also reaching out in other ways. For example, it just launched a medication-adherence app for Apple Watch.
Rite Aid is trying to stick close to Walgreens by piloting a new service with HealthSpot in three Ohio markets. HealthSpot offers freestanding virtual healthcare kiosks in brick-and-mortar locations.
Meanwhile, Wegman’s began working with Doctor on Demand to allow visitors to its pharmacies in a handful of New York and Pennsylvania locations to stop in for a virtual doctor or psychologist visit.
All of these forces contributing to the growth of telehealth, however, are adding to its complexity as well as to its utilization.
For instance, there already is a legal battle between two of the nation’s largest telehealth providers over which one practiced telehealth first—and whether what they’re doing can be protected by a patent, according to mhealthnews.com. American Well has filed a patent-infringement suit against Teladoc.
And where business grows, regulators are generally not far behind. Several states have already enacted parity laws requiring that some telehealth services be reimbursed by health plans to the same extent as in-person services.