The COVID-19 pandemic has critically altered physical and digital care tools and overall healthcare delivery. The accelerated adaption of tools like telehealth is transforming the ways in which people receive care. Large drugstore chains and retail stores are seeing an opportunity to provide a new healthcare consumer experience that integrates in-person care with digital solutions at the community level.

Large drugstore chains use physical and digital care tools to reimagine the in-person retail experience

At the recent HLTH VRTL Conference, representatives from Walgreens and Rite Aid highlighted their new healthcare delivery strategies. Alex Gourlay, co-COO of Walgreens, discussed how the company embraced its Find Care digital platform, which existed pre-pandemic but experienced a large spike of usage due to COVID-19. The digital platform gives users access to telehealth features through partnerships with MDLive and Amwell, and it connects users with digital solutions for diabetes, asthma and sleeping problems. During the pandemic, the Find Care tool also began providing COVID-19 resources, including testing and educational content.

Integrated physical and digital solutions aim to streamline healthcare delivery

Gourlay also discussed Walgreen’s goal to expand into primary care through its partnership with VillageMD by creating in-person clinics within their retail stores that cater to consumers’ total wellbeing. The clinics will offer primary care at the community level and not only focus on curing acute illnesses but also advocating for preventive care. Pharmacists will play a larger role in consumers’ healthcare experience, as they will work alongside physicians and nurses within their communities. Currently, Walgreens have five physical clinic locations but plans to open at least 500 over the next five years.

Similar to Walgreens, Rite Aid is elevating the role of its pharmacists by shifting everyday tasks like filling prescription bottles to pharmacy technicians, so pharmacists are able to engage with customers more. This shift is part of Rite Aid’s revamped brand strategy Rx Evolution. Jim Peters, COO of Rite Aid, announced the company’s rebranding at the HLTH VRTL Conference and highlighted the company’s goal of providing an in-store space, where pharmacists can consult with customers and connect them with community-based care teams or other providers if necessary. The revamped stores will feature virtual care rooms where customers can connect remotely with community care teams. While Rite Aid does not seek to provide primary care or specialty care clinics like Walgreens, its new brand strategy underscores the growing trend of drugstore chains providing integrated physical and digital care tools as solutions to streamline consumers’ healthcare experience.

Retailers like Walgreens and Rite Aid signal a new era of healthcare delivery services tailored to the consumer experience that utilize physical and digital care tools to address patient needs at the community level. Other major players like CVS Health and Walmart are also undergoing healthcare delivery transformations by opening pilot clinics for dental, vision and behavioral care within their retail stores. This new hybrid healthcare delivery model has the potential to change how consumers receive a large amount of their care by offering retail stores as healthcare destinations.