The Doctor is (Virtually) in at Rite Aid

Discussion
Sep 27, 2011

It’s not quite the same as having a nurse practitioner available to meet with patients in an in-store clinic environment, but Rite Aid is hoping that its customers in the Detroit area find value in an online service that enables them to have face-to-face (really screen-to-screen) consultations with doctors and nurses via OptumHealth’s NowClinic Online Care Service.

Robert Thompson, executive vice president of pharmacy at Rite Aid, said in a press release put out last week by the chain, "Our customers will be able to ask questions or receive care from doctors and health education from nurses online, fill prescriptions and consult with their Rite Aid pharmacist, all in one convenient visit."

Rite Aid customers can also access NowClinic Online Care 24/7 at www.myNowClinic.com/RiteAid when stores are closed. Pricing for discussions with nurses are currently free, while a 10-minute consult with a doctor is $45.

Information gathered during each session are "available for immediate sharing with a customer’s primary care provider, maintaining continuity of care."

Discussion Questions: Do you see 24/7 virtual health clinics catching on with consumers? What, if anything, will this mean for in-store clinics?

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11 Comments on "The Doctor is (Virtually) in at Rite Aid"


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Doron Levy
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Doron Levy
9 years 7 months ago

It’s good to provide access like this (we have a free service in Ontario called Telehealth but it’s nowhere near as cool as Rite Aid’s), but I have to ask about the quality. $45 bucks for 10 minutes of time? Really? I guess that’s the going rate for health care is down south (yes I pay higher taxes but there are walk in clinics that are open until 11 pm these days that will see me or my kids, anything after 11 pm and they will have to sleep it off). And sites like WebMD offer free advice (again, not sure of the quality). I hope it works for Rite Aid as it would seem essential, but again, getting my head around paying for these services is difficult for someone who has never shelled out a dime for health care. Is $45 for 10 minutes a good deal?

Art Williams
Guest
Art Williams
9 years 7 months ago

I applaud Rite Aid for their innovative thinking and feel that this has a very good chance to succeed. It reminds me of an emergency room doctor diagnosing a patient in the field with the paramedics. From a patient’s standpoint, it’s not as good as a face to face appointment, but it’s better than relying on a nurse to fill in for a doctor and much more readily and quickly available. A question is, when will this take the place of a trip to the ER?

Roy White
Guest
Roy White
9 years 7 months ago

It sounds like a good idea for building the Rite Aid brand, and anything that advances a drug store’s health capabilities should be viewed as a strong positive. However, I do have mixed emotions: online means the consumer doesn’t have to go to the store, and I think that is an outcome really needed at Rite Aid. This move, unlike many of the others that Rite Aid has initiated in the past few months, may not strengthen their stores to the extent that management wants.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

This is a great idea and a significant trend in healthcare. Most healthcare interaction can be done “screen-to-screen.” As people get more comfortable with using SKYPE type communication, this will expand greatly.

In the meantime, in-store clinics will continue to expand because they are close and convenient and some issues require person-to-person interaction.

The one thing that is going to be affected is the ridiculous waits in doctors’ offices to see a doctor for 10 minutes at an outrageous cost. Maybe people will not put off healthcare because of the ease of access.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

Is this the next step in an all tech world? It appears to be. I think Rite Aid is on to something and it’s about time for them. They have been lagging behind the industry for too long. They need to make a big splash. Maybe this is it.

I do have a problem with it being virtual and out of the store. It seems Rite Aid would be better served if the Med Staff of doctors were virtually available while the customer/patient was in the store. Next question: does a virtual diagnosis and recommendation have legal and insurance implications?

Larry Negrich
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

There is definitely a need to deliver after-hour medical services and medical consultation at an affordable price. The last few years, there has been an explosion of urgent care clinics to handle minor colds/injuries and to be used as an alternative to an ER visit. This type of service could fill another medical niche. Nice to see the market at work creating and delivering needed healthcare services.

Adrian Weidmann
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

There is tremendous potential in 24/7 virtual clinics, depending upon the depth of their assessment, but there are currently a huge collection of challenges to overcome before these initiatives will be viable. The conflicting business agendas and objectives between healthcare providers, health insurance providers and the pharmaceutical industry — along with HIPAA regulations — are daunting obstacles. The technology, including biometric measuring devices, are now available that will allow a more comprehensive service to be offered directly to the consumer in the privacy of their home, circumventing the need to have a retailer involved. In-store clinics that have a real person available may have far more value and viability than developing an in-store ‘virtual’ solution.

Ronnie Perchik
Guest
Ronnie Perchik
9 years 7 months ago

I definitely see this catching on with consumers. Healthcare is an industry where, generally, people appreciate more personal attention. And Rite-Aid utilizing technology to provide this is not only smart, but honorable. It just goes to show that, really, if you think out of the box, there’s no industry or business that’s exempt from employing digital technologies to elevate the “customer experience.”

Additionally, this digital approach could bring incremental customers to the Rite Aid chain without cannibalizing their in-store clinics. The consumer who will use the 24/7 digital service may need information in the middle of the night, when the in-store clinics are not open. Providing this customer with a valuable service that alleviates her worry can help to build her brand loyalty and may increase her use of the in-store clinic. Also, of course, consumers can’t receive some treatments via the digital technology (e.g. cultures, immunizations), but they could be reminded of them and incented to go in-store via the digital service thereby increasing usage and pleasing the customer.

James Tenser
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

Although I believe the fine points of the patient-avatar interaction still need considerable refinement, I can see how online consultations like NowClinic might work well for urgent-but-non-life-threatening situations that require no testing or stitching or injections.

In less affluent communities, the consults may take place in a small private booth in the store, but most smart phone users will soon be able to reach out from their own living rooms.

How can we best understand who benefits from this model? Speed seems to be the key advantage for patients. If the primary outcomes of online consults turn out to be new prescriptions (such as analgesics, allergy meds, and antibiotics) or OTC recommendations, then the chain drug store certainly stands to gain.

The issue seems murkier when it comes to ensuring patients’ best interests while relying upon their remote self-reporting. Is that really just a bit of indigestion or a bad headache?

Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
9 years 7 months ago

I recall something similar being offered by Duane Reade several years ago, wherein an Internet-enabled kiosk was set up in remote locations (like corporate parks) to allow users a video consult with a pharmacist. I liked the virtual healthcare idea then and I like it now. Consumers seek access to healthcare that is convenient, thrifty and on their terms. This seems like it will fit the needs of many such consumers.

That said, I do have a couple of quibbles. I may have missed it, but I didn’t see where users would actually have access to a pharmacist, which would seem a good healthcare provider to include here given the nature of Rite Aid’s core business and the relationships some consumers have established with their pharmacists. Also, the $45 fee for a 10-minute chat with a virtual doc seems a bit steep. But I’m guessing most will opt for the free nurse consult.

Carlos Arámbula
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

I think this is a great idea, but at the same time all I can think about is the liability costs involved in this type of operation. What happens when a health professional recommends that the patient attend a brick and mortar clinic for a better diagnosis? Does the patient get a refund? What about all the illnesses that often appear as common ailments only to develop into serious conditions? Will a migraine be diagnosed as a headache? Will a diabetes symptom be confused with an urinary system infection?

I have a thousand what ifs for a product that at first appears to be very innovative but then appears like a liability trap waiting to be released.

It’s a bit early to say what type of effect virtual clinics will have on in-store clinics. I believe the free-nurse consult will survive with a book of disclaimers, but I find it difficult for the physician consult to remain due to liabilities.

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