Walgreens showcased a range of ideas to innovate healthcare at their drugstore chains at last month’s TEDMED conference in San Diego, including a plan to give iPads to store staff.
Walgreens plans to hire staff to operate in the aisles of the stores as “health guides.” The program will begin as a pilot, with 16 stores in the Chicago area.
Walgreens hopes to give its consumers better access to health information through the use of the new health guides. The guides will even be able to use their iPads to get a range of information, including some physician ratings and government databases. They will also have be able to access the VA Department’s new “blue button” medical records designed, which were created to give military and other government personnel access to their health history as a text or .pdf file.
Colin Watts, chief innovation officer for Walgreens, told the Chicago Sun Times, “The concept is meant to create a pharmacy and health care ‘help desk’ where customers get solutions or referrals for their personal health questions.”
The company also has an eye on its bottom line. Since the health guides can answer many common consumer health questions the pharmacist will be free to do other tasks such as giving customers more one-on-one time, and move beyond simply filling prescriptions.
This new plan isn’t just good customer service, it’s also a business decision. Walgreens and similar retail pharmacies compete for reimbursement dollars just like doctor’s offices and hospitals do. The more actively pharmacists participate in customer care, the more Walgreens can claim in insurance reimbursements.
Walgreens new model has the potential to save money for consumers and pharmaceutical companies if their plan helps customers take medication more responsibly. According to the Sun Times, $290 billion a year is wasted on medical spending that could be avoided, and using the iPad to help consumers stay more informed may help reduce this unnecessary spending.