Microsoft is working with Walgreens to pilot-test a new type of healthcare service, which it calls “health corners,” bringing a new and more technology-focused form of healthcare to its retail locations.
The project stems out of a deal Microsoft struck with the Walgreens Boots Alliance roughly a year ago, in which the two organizations agreed to jointly develop healthcare solutions over the next seven years. Among the facets of the deal were plans to create the health corners.
Under the terms of the partnership, Microsoft manages Walgreens’ data storage and the retail pharmacy chain agreed to use the tech giant’s AI platform and retail solutions, according to a Becker’s Hospital Review piece.
The deployment of health corners marks a significant shift in strategy for Walgreens, which is turning away from the retail clinic model as it currently exists elsewhere. This is probably at least in part to the acquisition of walk-in retail clinic provider MinuteClinic by CVS Health, which allows CVS retail pharmacies to integrate with the clinics more effectively and potentially provide better service to patients.
At one time, Walgreens had healthcare clinics in place on-site at more than 400 of its retail stores, including some run by local health systems and some by Take Care Health Services. However, it closed almost all of the clinics at the end of 2019, aside from a few operated by health systems.
Instead, WBA is taking a new approach to health services delivery, one more central to its core function as a neighborhood pharmacy. The health corners, which Walgreens will test at 12 pharmacies in Tennessee, will feature two clinic-style rooms where patients can meet with a pharmacist to discuss health tech devices and medications.
This approach should offer several advantages over the urgent care-based retail clinic model. Among the most obvious is that by offering medication counseling and (most likely) an avenue to purchasing connected health devices, they are taking on wellness-related issues directly rather than just providing urgent care as an ancillary service.
The health corners are far more in line with a world in which offering people multiple channels with which they can engage — and in the process tweak their care. They stand to be a very valuable ally to traditional medical providers. The deal also gives Microsoft further visibility into the world of both consumer-facing digital health tools and pharmacy IT operations, both of which could prove to be major benefits.
Not only that, if digital health device monitoring is part of their mission, the health corners could also give both partners an advantage in the increasingly important battle to collect patient-generated health data. This benefit alone could make the whole effort worth pursuing.
Of course, nobody’s sure if things will come as hoped, which is why the partners are coming with a pilot before rolling out health corners nationally, but I’ve got a good feeling about this. I predict that within a year or two, you’ll see health corners to be in wide use across the Walgreens pharmacy network.