Telemedicine Continues to Transform Healthcare (Part 1 of 2): Pharmaceutical Retail’s Next Frontier

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A frequent topic that comes up in HCE interviews with healthcare executives, especially in relation to technology investments, is telemedicine.

According to the American Telemedicine Association (ATA), over half of U.S. hospital networks have instituted a telemedicine program of some kind, Doug Desjardins writes in the May 2013 issue of Medicine on the Net. By 2011, the Veterans Health Administration had provided military veterans with 300,000 remote consultations. Across the United States, 200 telemedicine networks are being operated at over 3,500 sites.

Now, telemedicine is taking over pharmaceutical retail.

“Earlier this year, Rite Aid became the first retailer to enter telemedicine in a big way when it announced plans to roll out its NowClinic program to 58 in-store health clinics in Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh,” Desjardins reports.

Robert Thompson, Rite Aid’s executive vice president of pharmacy, explained, “Given the rapidly changing healthcare landscape, we believe that telehealth services such as our NowClinic will play an extremely important role in healthcare in the future. Rite Aid’s online care services provide customers with convenient, affordable, and efficient access to care.”

Rite Aid’s pursuit of a telemedicine program began in 2011, with the piloting of NowClinic at nine different Detroit locations. For $45, a patient can have a private, one-on-one 10-minute video-conference consultation with an OptumHealth physician, Desjardins writes. The physician will then “either diagnose a condition and prescribe medication or tell patients to visit an emergency room or see a specialist.”

In establishing NowClinic, Rite Aid becomes the first retailer  to have telemedicine at its in-store clinics, but Benjamin Forstag, senior director of communications for the ATA, predicts an escalation of competition from other pharmaceutical retail franchises, like Walgreens with its 700 Take Care clinics and CVS with its 650 Minute Clinics.

Pharmaceutical retail’s embrace of telemedicine is actually an expansion of telemedicine’s original mission. According to Desjardins, “When telemedicine was launched a decade ago, the idea was to provide care for people in rural areas with limited access to medical specialists. The basic concept was to set up a video-conferencing system—often using a computer webcam—inside a doctor’s office or health clinic to put patients in direct contact with specialists without needing to visit them in person.”

Now, Rite Aid is demonstrating just how far telemedicine can go beyond the boundaries of the traditional healthcare setting.

How do you, as healthcare executives, think this will affect traditional providers? Will it aid and augment your services, or will it hinder them?

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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