Walgreens bets on healthcare runs as easy as errand runs

Walgreens made healthcare headlines this week with its subsidiary VillageMD buying physician practice group Summit Health in a deal worth roughly $8.9 billion. The moves are all part of a bigger vision to make visits for low-acuity healthcare as convenient as an errand run, a Walgreens leader told Fortune.

Tracey Brown, president of Walgreens retail and U.S. chief customer officer, told Fortune that the company's healthcare M&A does not mean its core drugstore business will become an afterthought. Rather, she sees Walgreens' 9,000 brick-and-mortar locations across the country as integral for the company's push into healthcare.

"What COVID taught us is that there is a need for alternative care settings," Ms. Brown said. "I believe that the future of care will actually happen in the likes of Walgreens. The front-of-store will still be a part of our footprint and a physical box where you can get what you need from a healthcare perspective. But what you'll start to see evolve is our pharmacy and pharmacists' role, where we're not just dispensing medicines, but we're actually providing care." 

Ms. Brown said the company is betting on the idea that a brick-and-mortar store with health and wellness products goes arm in arm with convenient healthcare services, such as consultations or tests for strep throat, skin conditions or urinary tract infections. That way, Walgreens' retail stores won't overlap with VillageMD and Summit Health, which operate more than 680 provider locations in 26 markets combined.

Enhancing the provision of healthcare – not just medications — in Walgreens stores will also help drive customers into its brick-and-mortar shops at a time when inflation has dampened sales and business has moved to e-commerce. 

"We are in many communities where others have left, and we are still in some communities where we are the place people go to get their milk and eggs," Ms. Brown said. "We still want to do that because it's an important part of overall health and well-being."


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