Walgreens Plots ‘Aggressive’ Strategy To Build Out Healthcare Services, CEO Roz Brewer Says

Walgreens plots 'aggressive' strategy to build out healthcare services, CEO  Roz Brewer says | Fierce Healthcare

Source: Fierce Healthcare, by Heather Landi

On the heels of several high-profile acquisitions, Walgreens aims to be a point of entry for consumers for healthcare services ranging from urgent care to specialty care and even in-home health.

Walgreen’s VillageMD unit recently announced it was buying another urgent and primary care chain, Summit Health-CityMD, in a deal worth close to $9 billion. The VillageMD-Summit Health deal will expand Walgreen’s reach into primary, specialty and urgent care. Combined, VillageMD and Summit Health will operate more than 680 provider locations in 26 markets.

 
 

Walgreens Boots Alliance and VillageMD have 52 co-located primary care practice locations currently open and will have more than 80 open by the end of this calendar year. Last year, Walgreens invested $5.2 billion in VillageMD, becoming the majority owner, and said it planned to open at least 600 Village Medical at Walgreens primary care practices across the country by 2025 and 1,000 by 2027.

The retail drugstore chain also plans to accelerate acquisitions of two other companies: post-acute and home care company CareCentrix and specialty pharmacy company Shields Health Solutions. CareCentrix currently manages care for more than 19 million members through over 7,400 provider locations.

“As soon as we were looking at life beyond the [COVID-19] vaccination period and getting into this endemic role in our lives, it was important to think about what’s the next growth venture for this company because dispensing of pharmaceuticals is not going to be our long-term growth avenue,” said Rosalind “Roz” Brewer, Walgreens Boots Alliance CEO, during an onstage interview at the HLTH 2022 conference.

 

“We have the ability to take that relationship between the pharmacist and consumer, combine that with the primary care that VillageMD delivers and then think about the in-home care of CareCentrix and you can almost patch together a continuum of care,” Brewer said.

“For us, we have been very aggressive and will continue to be to set up a healthcare continuum and deliver healthcare services through a brand that everyone knows and trusts,” she told the HLTH audience.

Walgreens wants to become a healthcare destination for consumers at a time when statistics show as many as 25% of Americans do not have a primary care provider.

Walgreens operates 9,100 stores in the U.S., and 75% of Walgreens stores are within five miles of every household in the U.S., according to Brewer.

 

“[Walgreens’] real estate and footprint across the U.S. is pretty strong and we can provide that access in our stores. We can have health corners in our stores to do more of the simple things that people need so they don’t have to go to the doctor. The whole idea is to localize it and bring access closer to home,” she said.

Brewer also sees the potential for what’s called “hybrid care” or the combination of virtual care and in-person services.

“There is going to be a part of healthcare delivery and healthcare services that’s always going to be person-to-person, but I do think who is going to win is that company or entity that can meet in the middle between physical and digital. I think it’ll be both,” she said.

Walgreens is currently testing store models that expand the square footage of the VillageMD primary care clinic with a smaller footprint for the drugstore, Brewer said.

“One of the stores here right here on the [Las Vegas] strip doesn’t have a pharmacy, but the one two doors down has a pharmacy. It’s that kind of thing to say, first, let the consumer help us to understand what we need to do and we’ll build it. I think you’re going to see a blend of virtual and in-person,” she noted.

Retail health shaking up primary care, home health

“Companies like CVS and Walgreens are preparing to move from episodic acute-based care to more long-term care,” Natalie Schibell, vice president and research director at Forrester, said in an interview when the Summit Health deal was announced.

“Walgreens Boots Alliance is graduating up from being a drug retail store to owning the life-cycle of members’ health,” David Larsen, healthcare IT and digital health analyst at financial services firm BTIG, wrote in a recent analyst note. “We view this transaction as being a statement by the market that primary care continues to be one of the key drivers of healthcare long-term.”

As part of the deal, Cigna’s healthcare unit Evernorth will become a minority owner in VillageMD with a $2.5 billion investment in the combined company.

By using Evernorth’s care coordination and pharmacy care solutions, Walgreens should be able to steer traffic into its own clinics and increase the use of medications that are beneficial to the member and to the company, Larsen noted in the analyst note.

The Summit Health-CityMD deal not only expands Walgreens’ healthcare market footprint but should also help its healthcare business turn a profit by year-end 2023, the company stated.

As a result of the transaction, Walgreens Boots Alliance expects to raise its adjusted EBITDA from negative $50 million to positive earnings of $25 million by the end of the 2023 fiscal year. Previously, Walgreens Boots Alliance stated that its healthcare business would not turn a profit until 2024.

Walgreens’ Brewer also noted that the company is open to partnerships rather than outright acquisitions.

“When you think about the full healthcare landscape, there are partnerships absolutely to be had. I don’t want to invest in and buy everything,” she said, adding, “we’re not a tech company, but we’re going to depend on technology so I could see us having a really strong technical partnership at some point.”

Masking Up, Testing, Sanitizing: Staying Safe This Thanksgiving With COVID-19, Flu And RSV

How to stay safe at Thanksgiving as COVID-19, flu and RSV rise - Los  Angeles TimesSource: Los Angeles Times, by Luke Money & Rong-Gong Lin II

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, bringing with it opportunities for festivities with family and friends.

But this year’s holiday happenings also risk attracting some unwelcome guests, as respiratory viruses and the coronavirus could find fertile ground to spread, especially in crowded indoor settings.

“Our winter virus season is here early, especially for our kids. We are seeing stress on our clinics and hospitals that care for kids, especially infants and kids under 12,” Dr. Tomás Aragón, California’s public health director and health officer, said recently. “It’s important to remember that kids get infected from other kids and adults, so everyone needs to do their part.”

While it’s impossible to eliminate the risk of catching COVID-19, the flu or RSV, health experts say there are several now-familiar steps that can be taken to boost protection.

“I know that I continue to look forward to this holiday and gathering with my mom and siblings and extended family and friends,” California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said. “And then I also think about, for the sake of our youngest Californians and other vulnerable Californians who could get severely sick after a respiratory illness, how important it is to gather in ways that might reduce risks of getting sick yourself or spreading infection to others.”

Get up to date on your shots

While there’s currently no vaccine for RSV — or respiratory syncytial virus, which can cause serious symptoms and even death in young children and older people — that’s not the case for the flu or COVID-19.

Annual flu shots have long been available. But for many residents, the COVID-19 pandemic may have interrupted the practice, especially given how atypically mild the last two flu seasons have been.

This time around, though, officials are expressing concern with the early and earnest arrival of the flu season. The illness has already reached levels not seen in years.

 

California Department of Public Health officials this week reported the season’s first death of a child younger than 5 due to flu and RSV.

“This tragic event serves as a stark reminder that respiratory viruses can be deadly, especially in very young children and infants,” Aragón said.

With the nation facing the earliest surge in flu cases in 13 years, the good news is that this season’s flu vaccine appears to be “a good match for the current strain,” said Dr. Matt Willis, health officer for Marin County.

 

Dr. Sarah Rudman, Santa Clara County’s deputy health officer, also said this week that “every type of flu vaccine, even when there’s a so-called mismatch between what’s circulating and what’s in the vaccine, provides a level of protection.”

COVID-19 vaccines are also available. Officials in particular urge residents to take advantage of the updated bivalent booster, which targets the original coronavirus strain and the Omicron subvariants that have dominated the U.S. in recent months, including BA.5.

 

“The message to those coming into our household is to get the fall booster now. That goes for everyone over age 5,” Willis said. “We know the booster vaccine is working.”

However, uptake has been slow. Only a bit more than 13% of eligible Californians have rolled up their sleeves, state data show.

“I realize that many people are thinking that it’s too late to get vaccinated before Thanksgiving because the vaccines need time to be effective,” Los Angeles County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis said. “While protection does ramp up over one to two weeks after you are vaccinated, this doesn’t mean that you will have zero protection until this point. You still have some protection, and you will be prepared for future events.”

 

Willis said the risk of hospitalization in Marin County among those who have received the updated COVID-19 booster — which has been available since September — is five times lower than for those who haven’t gotten the new shot.

“And we’ve had no deaths among people who have received the fall booster,” Willis said.

Consider masking up

While it is no longer required in most settings, many health officials say that wearing a mask — especially in indoor public settings — can help limit the spread of germs.

L.A. County is again strongly recommending wearing a mask in indoor public spaces. The guidance is in response to recent increases in coronavirus transmission, although officials noted that masks can also stave off other respiratory illnesses.

“Masks will provide protection against RSV and flu the same way they provide protection against COVID transmission,” Davis said.

 

Willis said he’s asking family members who don’t normally mask up to do so in indoor public settings starting four days before his holiday gathering.

Wash your hands diligently

Although the coronavirus is primarily transmitted through the air, other viral illnesses can be contracted by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching your mouth or nose.

Regular hand washing can lessen the risk of such transmission. Willis said he’s asking family members to “double down on hand washing frequently for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.”

 

If you have to sneeze or cough, do so into your arm, elbow or a disposable tissue to avoid expelling respiratory droplets.

Maximize ventilation

Officials have long emphasized that outdoor gatherings are inherently less risky than those inside. Weather permitting, gathering in a backyard or on a patio makes sense.

 

However, for many, the arrival of colder months makes gathering outside an unattractive proposition. In these instances, experts say keeping doors and windows open as much as possible or using indoor air filters can help boost protection.

One way to keep an outdoor option viable could be to invest in a heating lamp.

Test the day of an event

For the coronavirus in particular, rapid testing remains a key tool in helping tamp down transmission. Officials say guests, even those who feel fine, should consider testing the day of an event to make sure they’re not infected.

 

Insured people in the U.S. can get reimbursed for eight at-home COVID tests per month for every person on their health plan. That means for an insured family of four, the family can claim as many as 32 at-home tests per month that are required to be reimbursed by health insurers. The reimbursement covers a maximum of $12 per test.

When purchasing at-home COVID tests, be aware that many brands sell two tests in each box.

If you’re sick, stay home

This may be the most important, but hardest, ask.

More than 2½ years into the pandemic, the idea of missing a gathering with family and friends for any reason may seem like a deal-breaker. But showing up sick puts everyone at risk, even if you take precautions.

Don’t think that a negative coronavirus test gives you a free pass to attend a gathering if you have symptoms, either. You can test negative but still be visibly ill and contagious. And even if you don’t have COVID-19, you may have an illness you can still spread to others.

“It could be a heartbreaker, but we’re asking people if they do have symptoms to stay home because it’s a simple and effective way to not spread illness at a holiday dinner,” Willis said.

Last Updated 11/30/2022

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