Enhance, expand and evolve. That’s what Walgreens is doing, and what the healthcare industry as a whole should focus on, said the keynote speaker at the 2015 HIMSS Conference & Exhibition on Monday.
Alex Gourlay, executive vice president of the Walgreens Boots Alliance and president of Walgreens, told conference attendees that innovation has always been important to Walgreens, but not for its own sake.
“The patient has always been at the center and always will be,” he said. “All healthcare professionals believe in a purpose beyond profit. Our purpose must be to help people live healthier, happier lives.”
When Gourlay assumed the Walgreens top job at the end of 2014, he intended to enhance the firm’s core pharmacy business, but also wanted to expand Walgreens retail healthcare offerings and push the company even further toward interaction with consumers — to offer them more interactive tools to improve their health.
“To innovate in healthcare, you must know your target customer and follow them on their journey, through the continuum of care” he said.
Walgreens’ “core” customer is the mother of a family, Gourlay said, and research indicated that her healthcare interests — those of her family — were starting to change.
“Consumers are more empowered than ever,” he said, explaining that Walgreens determined it had to take measures to abet that empowerment. “We can innovate because we have real scale — over 8,200 drugstores — but scale will not be enough to survive in the future.”
Gourlay noted certain key trends driving innovation at Walgreens, and the industry at large. They include the simultaneous aging of the baby boomer generation and the rise of millennials; the broad distribution of mobile devices; the creation of wearable devices that track and record health and fitness data; and the growing desire for fast, actionable and personalized health and wellness insights based on data.
“Walgreens began our digital transformation by reinventing the basic pharmacy process,” Gourlay said. “We invented refill by mobile scan in 2011. We now refill more than one prescription per second via mobile device.”
Building on its mobile refill success, the company redesigned its mobile app, which now offers automated medication alerts, immunization scheduling capabilities, and the ability to chat directly with pharmacists through a mobile device. Walgreens is also adding these functions to its new Apple Watch app, which launches in May
Gourlay said Walgreens has invested much hope — and dollars — in wearable devices.
“We launched the first retail program reward for customers for buying and using wearable healthcare devices,” he said. “Patients with chronic conditions can sync their devices with our app.”
In a related project, Walgreens is developing a connector app with Qualcomm, Gourlay said, which would be an open ecosystem allowing any wearable device to connect with the Walgreens app.
The company has also announced a partnership with MDLIVE to launch a telemedicine initiative, which will provide Walgreens customers with on-demand access to physicians via mobile device. Gourlay said pilot programs are underway in Michigan and California, with the initiative rolling out in Illinois and other states in coming months.