At stores and on­line, health care moves closer to cus­tomer

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Insight - BY TOM MUR­PHY As­so­ci­ated Press The As­so­ci­ated Press Health and Sci­ence Depart­ment re­ceives sup­port from the Howard Hughes Med­i­cal In­sti­tute’s Depart­ment of Sci­ence Ed­u­ca­tion. The AP is solely re­spon­si­ble for all con­tent.

Health care is mov­ing closer to pa­tients.

Drug­stores are ex­pand­ing the care and sup­port they of­fer, and telemedici­ne is bring­ing doc­tors and ther­a­pists to the fam­ily room couch as the sys­tem shifts to help peo­ple stay healthy and at­tract cus­tomers who want con­ve­nience.

CVS Health of­fered the lat­est ex­am­ple Tues­day, an­nounc­ing plans to ex­pand a new store format that will pro­vide di­eti­tians, help peo­ple mon­i­tor chronic dis­eases and add com­mu­nity rooms that can be used for yoga classes. The drug­store chain, which quit sell­ing to­bacco sev­eral years ago, said it will open 1,500 of th­ese so-called HealthHub stores na­tion­ally by the end of 2021.

“The ul­ti­mate goal is bring more health ser­vices into peo­ple’s com­mu­ni­ties where they can ac­cess them as part of their daily life,” ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent Dr. Alan Lotvin said.

CVS ri­val Wal­greens is ex­per­i­ment­ing with pri­mary care clin­ics, and in­sur­ers are ex­pand­ing cov­er­age of di­eti­tian vis­its, hop­ing that keep­ing peo­ple healthy will re­duce costs and keep them out of ex­pen­sive hos­pi­tals.

The added con­ve­nience sounds good in the­ory, but th­ese newer care op­tions will have to earn pa­tient trust, said Har­vard re­searcher Dr. Ateev Mehro­tra, who has stud­ied re­tail clin­ics.

CVS Health, based in Woonsocket, Rhode Is­land, runs more than 9,800 stores na­tion­ally. Late last year, it added health in­sur­ance when it ac­quired one of the nation’s big­gest in­sur­ers, Aetna, in a roughly $69 bil­lion deal that is be­ing re­viewed by a fed­eral judge.

Soon af­ter an­nounc­ing that deal, CVS of­fi­cials started talk­ing about plans to pro­vide more health care help to cus­tomers. Late last year, the com­pany started test­ing HealthHub stores in Hous­ton.

Aside from vis­its with di­eti­tians, th­ese stores give cus­tomers a chance to get screened for eye prob­lems caused by di­a­betes, talk to a phar­ma­cist about a treat­ment plan or get help track­ing their blood pres­sure.

The stores re­duced space for sea­sonal mer­chan­dise to add ameni­ties such as com­mu­nity rooms that can be used for free chair yoga ses­sions or nu­tri­tion classes.

CVS Health said it will add more of th­ese stores to the Hous­ton mar­ket this year and ex­pand to Atlanta, the Philadel­phia area and Tampa.

Sep­a­rately, Wal­greens will start adding pri­mary care clin­ics next to some of its stores in the Hous­ton area through a part­ner­ship with Vil­lageMD. It’s also test­ing clin­ics in Kansas City that fo­cus on older pa­tients through a deal with the in­surer Hu­mana.

Wal­greens, which still sells to­bacco, wants to cre­ate what its lead­ers call “health care neigh­bor­hoods” with its stores and im­prove ac­cess to pri­mary care.

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