As pharmacy chains launch in-store medical clinics, Rite Aid is betting on telehealth.
Telemedicine, an internet video technology enabling patients to receive treatment from remote providers, promises significant cost and convenience benefits. Yet so far widespread adoption has been slow to catch on.
Now, a new program from pharmacy chain Rite Aid promises to provide an expanded population of patients with access to efficient telehealth services. What will this mean for consumers, healthcare providers, and the pharmacy industry?
Rite Aid to Offer Telemedicine Services
Rite Aid is one of America’s largest pharmacy chains, with 2,500 locations and 51,000 employees. The company has been slower than its competitors to offer in-store healthcare services, but now it’s seeking to catch up. Rite Aid has announced the launch of in-pharmacy telemedicine appointments through InTouch Health.
Rite Aid’s telehealth initiative will be part of its RediClinics, which already provide medical visits in 25 stores in Pennsylvania and New Jersey as well as at 36 H-E-B supermarkets in Texas. Using InTouch Health software, patients will be able to conduct video appointments with offsite providers. The program is intended for wellness and preventive visits in addition to acute urgent care treatments for conditions like the flu, urinary tract infections, and upper respiratory infections.
Despite the many benefits of telemedicine, some providers wonder how doctors can properly diagnose ailments without taking vital signs and conducting an in-person examination. Rite Aid’s program addresses this challenge through the use of trained medical assistants. When a patient arrives, they will be ushered into a private kiosk; an assistant will take their vital signs and ask them a range of screening questions. Then the patient will be connected with a remote physician who can provide a diagnosis, formulate a treatment plan, send a prescription to the very same pharmacy, and make a referral to a specialist if necessary.
Telehealth appointments may be booked online or by speaking to a Rite Aid employee. According to Jocelyn Konrad, the company’s executive vice president of pharmacy and retail operations, “Virtual care is another opportunity for Rite Aid to offer patients the convenience of faster service and value-based healthcare.”
Pharmacies Competing for Healthcare Dominance
Rite Aid’s new initiative comes as its main competitors are also investing in a broader range of healthcare services. CVS already offers MinuteClinics for everyday health issues, and has recently announced 1,500 new HealthHUBS to treat a broader range of illnesses. Meanwhile, Walgreens is planning full-service primary care outlets in some locations. With online and mail-order pharmacies also encroaching on the market, competition is heating up. This latest initiative is Rite Aid’s bid to ensure it won’t be left behind.
Brick-and-mortar outlets are realizing that in-store clinics are an excellent way to take advantage of their presence in communities. For patients, pharmacy clinics offer a great deal of convenience. Prescriptions can be written and filled in the same building, saving time. Rural patients who live far from doctors and hospitals can instead visit a pharmacy that’s closer to home. This is especially useful for patients with limited mobility, who face daunting transportation hurdles.
Rite Aid’s announcement is also a watershed moment for telemedicine. Thus far, home-based implementations have been the focus for telehealthcare. But some patients, especially elderly ones, may be uncomfortable with home video chat systems. Further, physicians can only make limited diagnoses without access to a patient’s vital signs.
The video RediClinics from Rite Aid will solve both of these problems. Patients can access a robust telemedicine system in their local pharmacy, and medical assistants will take any necessary readings. Coupled with a new FCC program offering discounted broadband service to telehealth providers, the outlook is bright for telemedicine.