Retailers are flocking to the virtual care market

Disruptors are turning to virtual care offerings to make healthcare more affordable and accessible to consumers. 

Most recently, Walgreens rolled out virtual care with healthcare providers for common health needs.

The new virtual care offering, dubbed WVH, rolled out to patients in California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas.

The offering gives patients access to virtual consultations with a physician or a nurse practitioner via chat, as well as video visits with a medical provider for select conditions. 

Costco also joined the virtual care arena in 2023 and is offering $29 virtual primary care visits through a partnership with healthcare marketplace Sesame. The Sesame platform allows clinicians to set prices and for patients to pay them directly, avoiding insurance. 

"Costco getting into healthcare is another example of the general patient consumer audience asking for more availability of care on their terms, when they want it," Aaron Miri, chief information and digital officer of Jacksonville, Fla.-based Baptist Health, told Becker's. "Systems have to learn to work together with the big box retailers and other collaborators in this space to ensure equitable access for all while meeting the general consumer needs of access." 

Meanwhile, Amazon decided to create its own virtual care platform, dubbed Amazon Clinic

The service's messaging-based consultation costs $35, and a video visit costs $75. Currently, Amazon Clinic doesn't accept insurance but instead allows consumers to pay a flat fee. 

Sara Vaezy, chief strategy and digital officer of Renton, Wash.-based Providence, called the move one that hospitals and health systems can learn from. 

"We aren't surprised Amazon Clinic went national or retail organizations are applying their consumer expertise to support consumer health," Ms. Vaezy told Becker's. "We should be learning from them — taking proven technology that supports health access and navigation and applying it to the much more complex care journeys that health systems manage."

These disruptors are using "cost-effective care" that is available to consumers "when and where they need it," according to Eric Smith, senior vice president and chief digital officer of Houston-based Memorial Hermann Health System. 

This approach is one that hospitals and health systems are looking at modeling as patient expectations are changing, and they want more personalized and tailored approaches to their healthcare experiences. 

"Companies like Amazon have done really well at connecting buyers and sellers. In our case, it's connecting the clinician and the patient, or the system to the consumer with things such as content, information, tools and services," Ms. Vaezy said. "Patients are going to be online and they are interested in various different channels. We need to personalize and tailor our reach to consumers and meet them where they are."

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