Walgreens earlier this week announced another round of outsourcing their in-store health clinics to a local health system, this time in the Midwest US with Advocate Health Care. It affects 56 locations in the Chicago, Illinois area which will operate as Advocate Clinic at Walgreens in May 2016. It’s an interesting spin on the much-touted integration of healthcare services into retail pharmacies. It gives an integrated health system a prime location for community services–a clean, well-lighted place (to quote Hemingway, minus the daiquiris) with minimal overhead that provides one-stop-shopping for patient pharmacy and OTC products. It also solves part of the ‘fragmentation of care’ problem for Advocate patients as their records will go straight into their EHR. For Walgreens, it offloads the licensure and operating expenses of a clinic, gives a strong competitive advantage lent by the legitimacy of a leading provider, and attracts Advocate patients to their locations. Walgreens release Last August, Walgreens turned over the keys of 25 Washington and Oregon clinics to Providence Health & Services in what now can be seen as a trial balloon.
What is surprising is how few Walgreens have clinic services–400 of over 8,100–over nine years of operations, starting with the acquisition of former travel industry executive Hal Rosenbluth’s 25 or so TakeCare Clinics around Philadelphia back in 2007. Yet further clinic expansion has been difficult as many locations have no physical space, there are restrictive state laws and the competition is everywhere between over 1,000 CVS Minute Clinics and local urgent care clinics. CVS also recently acquired 80 Target pharmacies and walk-in clinics. It’s reported that profitability has been a challenge for Walgreens in the clinic biz. Expect to see more of these arrangements to grow Walgreens’ clinic network.
Why might this be a contributor to HealthSpot Station’s end? A change of direction and a need for cost cutting that wasn’t there a year ago. Walgreens is finalizing its merger with Alliance Boots and is acquiring Rite Aid’s 4,600 locations (less overlap) if regulatory approval is gained. The largest contract HealthSpot had was with 25 Rite Aid locations in Ohio. If their acquirer is outsourcing in-store clinics to health systems, a commitment to kiosks–especially ones which have to be staffed–makes little sense. And will CVS be far behind in outsourcing their clinics if the numbers work?