Virtual health care at the forefront of Pharmacy 2.0

Technology in retail pharmacies has traditionally 
meant the adoption of robotic dispensing systems and electronic health records, but in recent years, pharmacy retailers have been bringing technology to the consumer level.


In September, Rite Aid teamed up with OptumHealth to become the first to provide “virtual clinics” in a retail pharmacy setting in some stores in the Detroit area.


NowClinic allows customers at stores to interact in real time with doctors and OptumHealth nurses, using the Internet to have private consultations with doctors about symptoms and obtaining guidance, diagnoses and even prescriptions for some medications. Customers also can have conversations with nurses, who can provide basic healthcare education, information on common medical problems and identification of appropriate provider options for care. Afterward, customers can obtain a record of each interaction.


Online virtual doctor visits have been around for some time. Zipnosis.com, for example, allows patients to log onto the site, answer the same questions a healthcare provider would ask a patient and, once the evaluation is complete, receive a response from a physician, nurse practitioner or physician assistant. 


Depending on the condition and the interview, a patient can receive anything from advice to a referral or even an electronic prescription. Zipnosis plans to expand to 10 states by the end of this year.


What makes Rite Aid’s collaboration with OptumHealth significant is that it brings these services into the store, giving the patient immediate access to the pharmacy, offering access to expertise from physicians, nurses and pharmacists — without the need to have the former two physically present in the store — and, if patients receive prescriptions, it offers the convenience of the pharmacy literally just a few steps away.


The “virtual clinic” services echo services already offered at Rite Aid’s Wellness stores, where patients can visit a private consultation room and interact via webcam with pharmacists who specialize in medication therapy management and various disease states. 


But Pharmacy 2.0 is by no means the sole preserve of Rite Aid. Walgreens also has launched an initiative designed to enhance its technology infrastructure, including a scalable healthcare platform that will use new technology to support its goal of becoming a destination for health and daily living. Recently, the chain found itself in 29th place of the InformationWeek 500 list of the top technology innovators in the country, being the highest-ranking company in the retail and general merchandising category. 


One company that brings pharmacy technology to the customer in a big way is PharmaSmart, which introduced its BPT-Rx medication therapy management software in August. The software integrates into the pharmacy software system and links blood-pressure results collected from PharmaSmart monitors directly to an enrolled patient’s electronic profile.


The efforts of Rite Aid and Walgreens, and the products and services of companies like PharmaSmart, are helping to transform pharmacy from the place to get medicines to a one-stop destination for health care.