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Walgreens, Rite Aid and CVS are all headed in the same direction, as the American drugstore chain business is being redefined not only by vast changes in retailing but also by vast changes in healthcare. Their goal: Becoming the brand that consumers turn to as an overall healthcare partner, rather than just a place they stop on their way home to pick up a prescription or a toothbrush.
That’s why all three pharmacy retailers have turned their stores into service clinics as well as retail outlets. It’s why CVS took a chance this year with a decision to disassociate itself from cigarettes. It’s why Rite Aid’s RediClinic division is expanding health care delivery in Baltimore, Philadelphia and Seattle, among other places.
And it’s why Walgreens has been innovating and investing heavily in a digital health platform that already has advanced the brand a long way toward this objective, including wearable tech and mobile apps.
As Walgreens readies for the retirement of CEO Greg Wasson and for a new global structure under its merger with Europe’s Alliance Boots, brandchannel talked with Adam Pellegrini, vice president of digital health, about how its vision for the future of healthcare is well underway.
brandchannel: Adam, how does what you’re doing fit into Walgreen’s overall strategy of broadening its brand, and how is that going?
Adam Pellegrini: We really want to transform the role of a community pharmacy so that it’s a health outpost. From a digital health perspective, it’s a virtual layer on top of a bricks-and-mortar establishment that allows us to deliver care anywhere and, more important, to do so with local healthcare systems and partners, like software developers and app partners, in the space. That’s where the ecosystem comes into place for our Balanced & Healthy Choices [loyalty rewards program].
brandchannel: And on that platform, you’ve got digital initiatives stretching across the brand and business?
Pellegrini: Yes, we put them into three buckets. One is primary prevention, which is where the rewards program and wearable devices align. We know that people go into our stores on average about 20 times a year to buy products and get health information (and now get health information from WebMD in partnership with Walgreens in our stores). We know that they want to get fit and eat right, so with wearables we give them points for eating right and getting fit and setting goals, and then we’re adding the digital coaching aspect with WebMD launching in January, which is very powerful. It’s about small, simple wins that add up to a waterfall of change.
The second bucket is helping people manage chronic disease. We have introduced rewards for glucose and blood pressure measurement and monitoring using connected devices with our partners. People are literally connecting blood-pressure devices and blood-glucose devices and uploading and managing results and getting points every time they do that. We will add diabetes and heart health to our digital coaching platform as well. We also are implementing “pharmacist chat” as part of our coaching platform. We know that self-management can do only so much, especially when it comes to chronic diseases.
The third prong is really about delivering remote care anywhere with remote monitoring and telemedicine. We’re testing a “virtual doctor” program of telemedicine with physicians in California and Michigan. They have great environments for telemedeicine already, given local laws and regulations, and we have a great store presence in both of those states. But we’ll open it up [to other states] sooner rather than later.
brandchannel: So you’re using the digital platform to cover as many aspects of healthcare to as many people as possible?
Pellegrini: We’re really trying to deliver the ultimate in convenience. We have been a retail pharmacy for more than 100 years, and the pharmacy has been a trusted colleague for our patients that entire time. The only way you can truly live the ultimate convenience in this current day and age is through an omnichannel approach, period. We want to continue to deliver trusted health services, be a member of that care team with the provider. Synchronizing care around the patient is the end game.
brandchannel: Do you wish Walgreen’s had beaten CVS to the punch and decided to ban cigarettes from your stores?
Pellegrini: At the end of the day, we decided it’s about choices and the consumer’s right to choose. We still think that’s the approach that consumers want, to be able to make those choices when they’re ready. But we have launched a smoking-cessation platform using the Balanced & Healthy Choices framework to give people rewards for their quitting attempts. We’ve already seen more than 10,000 data points from people using it, as they’re tracking different data points every day.
brandchannel: What is Greg Wasson’s legacy with regard to Walgreen’s digital future?
Pellegrini: He couldn’t have been more instrumental. By hiring [President of Digital and CMO] Sona Chawla, who hired me, and basically by saying that he believes in digital health and helping us truly make it happen in just five years, his support has been critical.