Cisco taps Walgreens to provide telehealth to employees

In yet another solid move into the mHealth sphere--and into a possibly competitive position with hospitals--Walgreens has partnered with Cisco to provide telehealth and onsite clinical services to the IT giant.

While one primary service will be virtual physician visits, Cisco actually is running the program out of a new brick-and-mortar clinic--LifeConnections health center--which it built at its San Jose, Calif., headquarters. Walgreens subsidiary Take Care Health will run the clinic, and provide a staff of 30 physicians, nurses and others to deliver onsite services to up to 40,000 employees, according to a Walgreens press release.

The telehealth connection will be those clinicians providing televisits to 3,600 Cisco employees at the company's offices in Research Park, N.C. A small facility there will house one nurse, who will be the primary liaison for employees who use the system.

Through the program, employees will have direct and video-conferencing access to primary care, physical therapy, chiropractic care, acupuncture, vision care, health coaching, and an onsite Walgreens pharmacy, Computerworld reports.

The new Walgreens deal isn't Cisco's first foray into employer-focused telehealth. The IT giant and insurer UnitedHealth Group piloted the telehealth program two years ago for about 300 Cisco employees in San Jose, with some success, according to company officials.

Walgreens, too, has multiple irons in the telehealth fire, with kiosk-based televisits in some Walgreens locations and iPad-carrying employees to help customers access online health tools.

"Exploration of innovative technologies such as Cisco HealthPresence, will allow us to further grow our reach, in turn generating the potential for even stronger outcomes for patients, businesses and payers," Peter Hotz, group vice president for Walgreens, said in a statement this week.

Particularly on the employer-sponsored health services front, Walgreens officials point to a 2011 report from Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health, which indicates that 23 percent of companies currently offer onsite health services, and that an additional 12 percent of companies plan to begin to offer such services in 2012.

Whether telehealth services will join the onsite offerings isn't quite clear yet, but for multi-state firms, it certainly makes sense. One limitation for the Cisco technology, however, may be its lack of true mobility. Cisco just launched the newest (2.0) version of its HealthPresence software, but the telehealth system remains confined to mobile computer carts, desktops and laptops, according to InformationWeek.

The system isn't yet ready for more mobile platforms like smartphones or tablets, Kathy English, director of Cisco's healthcare practice admitted to InformationWeek last month. However, she added, the company is exploring those mobility options.

To learn more:
- read the Walgreens press release
- check out Computerworld's coverage
- get more detail on Cisco's technology from a Fast Company report
- read this InformationWeek piece