Walgreens and Amazon Step Up Efforts to Disrupt Primary Care

Walgreens and Amazon Step Up Efforts to Disrupt Primary Care. A Walgreens corner store.The pandemic continues to take a toll on health care providers, but it hasn’t stopped disruptors like Amazon and Walgreens Boots Alliance from advancing their primary care strategies.

Walgreens recently invested $1 billion to open 500 to 700 primary care clinics with medical services provider VillageMD in more than 30 markets over the next five years. This marks the first time a national pharmacy chain has tried to build a primary care infrastructure in stores using physicians as opposed to nurse practitioners.

Walgreens plans to staff its primary care locations with 3,600 primary care physicians recruited by VillageMD, along with nurses, social workers and therapists working alongside Walgreens’ pharmacists. This will be a big financial gamble for Walgreens Boots Alliance, which recently filed a $1.7 billion loss, particularly at its overseas locations, as a result of the pandemic.

The retail pharmacy chain, which has suffered fits and starts over the years in evolving its health care strategy, began trialing full-service doctors’ offices in its stores late last year with five clinics in Houston. The successful pilot generated high patient satisfaction scores, Walgreens states.

If successful, the strategy could also provide significant lift to Walgreens’ prescription-writing and improve front-of-store sales. CVS Health and Walmart have seen significant growth by adopting an integrated pharmacy model.

Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, last fall began testing health centers branded with its name. In Calhoun, Ga., for instance, Walmart customers can see doctors for routine checkups ($30 for those without insurance) and ongoing treatment of chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease. The Walmart Health center has a door next to Walmart Supercenter.

CVS has also opened HealthHUBs, offering 21 basic primary care health services. It plans to have a chain of 1,500 locations by the end of 2021.

Amazon is moving at a more deliberate pace with getting into the primary care space, recently announcing it will pilot 20 primary care centers in Dallas-Fort Worth, San Bernardino-Moreno Valley, Calif., Louisville, Ky., Phoenix and Detroit. The centers will serve more than 115,000 Amazon employees and their families with plans to add more in 2021 if these are successful.

The health centers will be staffed by national medical group Crossover Health, which works with self-insured employers on primary care for their workforces. Located near Amazon businesses, the health centers will provide acute, chronic and preventive primary care, along with prescription medications, vaccinations, behavioral health services, physical therapy and more, in person and via telehealth.

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