CVS, Walgreens shift focus to what Amazon doesn't have: Face-to-face healthcare

It's no question that Amazon's push into the pharmacy space is captivating the attention of boardrooms and investors, but instead of fearing the e-commerce giant, its brick-and-mortar retail pharmacy rivals — CVS Health and Walgreens — have been pursuing strategies that emphasize one thing Amazon doesn't have: face-to-face connections with patients, according to Forbes.

In recent months, CVS Health and Walgreens have been doubling down on strategies stressing the patient connection. These strategies are aimed at moving beyond the ability to order something online and have it delivered within hours.

Walgreens, for example, is testing several partnerships, including a collaboration with health insurer Humana and healthcare provider New York City-based NewYork-Presbyterian. In June, Walgreens announced it was teaming up with Humana to open primary care clinics for Medicare beneficiaries in two Walgreens stores in Kansas City, Mo. In December, Walgreens and NewYork-Presbyterian entered into a partnership to expand patient access to telemedicine. The partnership allows patients to access telemedicine from Walgreen's website and at self-service kiosks at select drugstores.

In addition to exploring partnerships to enhance the patient connection, Walgreens also launched its own digital platform and marketplace July 26 to connect its customers with 17 providers working at Walgreens retail locations nationwide. The platform allows customers to search for local and digital healthcare services such as urgent care, lab testing and physician consults at various Walgreens locations.

Like Walgreens, CVS Health is also shifting its focus to face-to-face healthcare. CVS Health operates more than 1,100 MinuteClinics, walk-in clinics staffed by nurse practitioners. The drug store touts this relationship with medical care providers and the potential to add more of these clinics once its acquisition of Aetna is completed. 

CVS Health also is pursuing a digital strategy through its recent partnership with Teledoc Health, a telehealth provider. Under the partnership, CVS Health's MinuteClinics will offer video visits that patients can access 24/7 from their mobile devices.

"With a physical presence in almost every community across the country, we have the unique ability to meet patients where they are and provide the care and services they need either face-to-face or with the unique set of virtual and physical delivery service capabilities that extends our physical presence in real time to meet their needs," CVS Health CEO Larry Merlo said on the company's second quarter earnings call "It's not simply about selling products."

These face-to-face healthcare options and local partnerships with hospitals and providers are what CVS and Walgreens view as key to transitioning to value-based care from fee-for-service medicine. And, while not directly naming Amazon, these retail giants are emphasizing strategies that bring people into the store — something the e-commerce giant doesn't have.

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