Major pharmacy chains are expanding into primary care. Here’s how small practices can stay relevant amid the changing healthcare landscape.
As healthcare opportunities continue to evolve, national pharmacy chains are playing an increasingly important role in bringing accessible services to consumers. Last year, the Justice Department approved a merger between CVS and Aetna, giving the country’s largest pharmacy an entry point into the insurance sector. Now, CVS and its main rival, Walgreens, are opening primary care practices in their retail stores.
It appears that CVS and Walgreens are vying to become the Amazon of healthcare, offering a convenient, streamlined experience all in one location. If they succeed, what will it mean for smaller, independent primary care practices?
Pharmacies Offer a New Primary Care Option
Walgreens already operates walk-in clinics that are focused on treating patients with acute conditions such as the cold or flu. However, the company recently announced plans to open full-service primary care outlets in some of its stores. These practices will offer annual checkups and regular preventive care.
In Houston, Walgreens is partnering with VillageMD to open primary care clinics in five pharmacies. At 2,500 square feet, each office will be in the same building as Walgreens, with its own storefront and an internal door connecting to the pharmacy. Featuring six to eight exam rooms and a waiting area, the clinics will be staffed with nurses and social workers as well as doctors.
Meanwhile, CVS is opening its own concept stores focused on preventive care. Known as HealthHUBs, the outlets are aimed at serving customers with chronic conditions like hypertension, asthma, and diabetes. HealthHUBs will offer larger versions of CVS’ existing MinuteClinic for walk-in patients. They will be equipped with labs for blood testing, rooms to seek advice from clinicians, and wellness spaces for yoga instruction. Customers can also gain personalized nutritional advice from dietitians or check their blood pressure, weight, or BMI at a kiosk.
What Are the Implications for Small Practices?
While transformative, these new practices operated by major pharmacy chains will likely face some challenges. Customers know CVS and Walgreens as pharmacies, so rebranding will be necessary in order to get patients to think of them as primary care facilities. Nevertheless, the new clinics have high prospects for success. Walgreens and CVS are trusted names as pharmacies, and envisioning them as sites for additional medical care is not a great leap.
The central advantage that pharmacy-based practices offer is convenience. Many Americans have insufficient access to primary care and are therefore looking for other options. A shortage of physicians often contributes to long waiting times for primary care visits, and doctors’ offices may be far away for patients, especially in rural areas. By contrast, 75 percent of the population lives within four miles of a CVS. Pharmacies also offer evening and weekend hours that are much more convenient than those of a traditional weekday medical practice. Furthermore, getting a prescription and having it filled in the same building can save patients time.
Small practices will need to be proactive in facing the challenge posed by pharmacy giants. Digital marketing strategies can help practices stay relevant and competitive in this changing landscape. SEO, video ads, listings in online directories, social media activity, and building an engaging website can all help attract and retain new patients. Pharmacy chains may offer greater convenience, but independent practices still provide the gold standard of personal, compassionate care — and their digital marketing channels should emphasize that fact.