Walgreens expands its medical-care offerings in major California markets

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Walgreens is opening more Health Corner locations through a deal with Blue Shield of California. At the dedicated spaces, it can provide medical care that’s billed to the insurer.

Blue Shield of California

At Walgreens stores in California, the drugstore chain is previewing how it plans to become a place where more customers go for medical care — not just prescriptions.

Walgreens Boots Alliance said Wednesday that it will expand the number of stores in the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas with so-called Health Corners, which offers medical care in association with health insurer Blue Shield of California. It has opened 12 Health Corner locations in California and plans to open eight more by mid-year.

Health Corners are discrete spaces in stores where a registered nurse or pharmacist can schedule a mammogram, screen a patient for high blood pressure or diabetes or help set up a high-tech medical device.

Dr. Sashi Moodley, chief clinical officer of Walgreens Health, said Health Corners act as “connective tissue that are keeping these patients on track, especially when they’re between doctor’s visits.”

These new services are being offered in “health-care deserts” that have few doctor’s offices and a predominant number of patients with chronic conditions like diabetes, Moodley said.

Blue Shield reimburses billable services that the health advisor provides to its members. Customers who aren’t covered by the insurer can also get select services from a Health Corner, but for Blue Shield members there’s a longer list of available health services and no copay.

So far, the 9,000-store chain has opened a total of 48 Health Corners, including 36 in New Jersey, where it has a deal with Clover Health. It’s looking to have 100 locations by year-end.

Walgreens declined to share financial terms or the length of the deals.

The expansion with the insurers forms part of the company’s strategy to push into health care, as companies from Amazon to Capsule drain its typical sales of shampoo, pain relievers and prescriptions.

Walgreens has made several acquisitions, including becoming the majority owner of VillageMD, a primary care company, which is opening doctor’s offices connected to the chain’s stores. In addition, it’s opening robot-powered fulfillment centers across the country, which help fill prescriptions and free up pharmacists’ time to provide more medical care.

Rival CVS Health also is turning some stores into health-care destinations by adding more services and medical devices and expanding a new store format called a HealthHub. CVS owns health insurer Aetna and directs members to MinuteClinic locations, which are located in stores.

Its many store locations make the Walgreens deal appealing, D.D. Johnice, vice president of the Health Transformation Lab at Blue Shield of California, said in a news release. It will “make these resources available closer to home” and “offer more satisfying and convenient support to our members and their families,” she said.

Each Health Corner location will be staffed by a Walgreens pharmacist or a nurse and will include a private room and a “tech bar,” Moodley said.

Moodley said Walgreens can drive down health-care costs for insurers by interacting with patients more frequently at the Health Corner locations. Nearly 80% of the U.S. population lives within five miles of a Walgreens store, and many of its regular customers are seniors, caretakers and people who juggle multiple medical conditions, which means they often see their pharmacist more than their doctor as they retrieve prescriptions, he said.

“You can only impact patients that you can engage and that’s a critical reason why we think we’re so well-positioned,” he said.

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