Retail giants Walmart and Target, and likely others, will continue their steady march into the healthcare setting, sensing an opportunity to leverage their customers with a mix of technology that could be a boon to the digital health space.
Speaking at Health 2.0’s WinterTech conference in San Francisco, officials with both companies said the move toward providing a deeper level of services, including some level of chronic disease management, could apply to both their employees and consumers, as part of a wider effort to contain healthcare costs and to guide consumers to healthier lifestyles.
“It is indeed a customer-facing retail clinic. However, it is also an on-site clinic for our employees,” said Ben Wanaker, who leads the Walmart Care Clinic business. “All of our employees have health needs, all are on high-deductible health plans and Walmart, like everyone else, is struggling with healthcare costs.”
Both Target, which made headlines recently with its collaboration with Kaiser Permanente in Southern California, and Walmart will be exploring technological tools to enhance efforts, which could range from partnerships and acquisitions on technologies like mobile coaching apps to telemedicine efforts.
Eric Brotten, VP of consumer health and referral solutions for Optum, likewise said retail clinics will continue to evolve, and that Optum, a division of insurance giant UnitedHealthcare, will be on the lookout for technologies to bolster its offerings. From a payer standpoint, the idea makes a lot of sense, he said.
“The real goal of that is to provide care in a way that ultimately drives outcomes in a different care setting,” he said, noting that Optum runs about 20 retail clinics in Texas, Kansas and Nevada.
For Target, much of the expansion will come in the way of collaborations, with the Kaiser effort cited as an example that could be extended into other regions, according to Michael Laquere, senior buyer for pharmacy at Target.
“We very much take a partnership approach,” he said, adding it and other retailers have an opportunity to reach potentially millions of consumers. He also demonstrated Target’s new pharmacy prescription app, suggesting medication adherence could be assisted through retail health.
“This is a big step and a big investment,” he said. The app can help with dosage alerts, refills and take pictures to assist with transferring prescriptions. Target partnered with Mscrips on the app.
“We’re building this platform, so we’re looking at things like coaching tools, ways to connect with telemedicine, connecting with pharmacies in a more virtual way,” he said when asked what Target’s next moves into the digital health space might include. In addition, scheduling functionality for appointments is of interest.
“We’re really interested in technologies and applications that can help us deliver evidence-based primary care,” Wanamaker said of Walmart’s goals. “Whether that’s (electronic medical record) applications or applications that live in a provider or patient’s pocket. We care about the quality in our care but we also need to be very efficient.”
From a data standpoint, retailers could be sitting on potentially riveting customer information, particularity as it relates to buying pattens, a la Amazon, and health outcomes. If successfully harnessed, seeing what kind of food a customer with a health condition is buying could lead to suggestions that might improve health, or mitigate a chronic condition like Type 2 diabetes.
Yet the potential is not yet realized because of potential privacy issues and regulations, although the opportunity is there.
“It’s a huge opportunity, but it’s something that we have to be very careful about,” Laquere of Target said. “The key is being really transparent and really clear about how we’re using the data and that it actually adds value.”
Wanamaker of Walmart agreed, within the regulatory constraints
“We think we have a tremendous opportunity that can help consumers make better decisions.”
While the retail sector sees opportunity in healthcare, Wanamaker said it’s unreasonable to suggest Walmart or Target would be the be-all, end-all for healthcare. But, he said, it could be a strong starting point for many people who struggle to access the healthcare system initially.
“We would never make the claim that we will be the beginning and the end of your healthcare needs,” he said. “However, not everyone gets to the beginning, and we want to be the beginning.
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