iPad clad 'health guides' help Walgreens customers with online tools

Walgreens is offering a service many hospitals may want to emulate: A full-time, in-store employee to help patients navigate the growing number of online health tools.

Announced late last week, the new employee, or "health guide," will be patrolling in 16 Chicago-area Walgreens locations with an iPad. The health guides will help patients look up everything from public physician ratings databases and online medical records to information about getting a flu shot, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

The health guides aren't just resources for patients either, according to Aamer Ghaffar, CEO of M-Healthcoach, which created the iPad app for Walgreens. The app should take some of the burden of looking up records and explaining some health information off of pharmacists and other clinicians, he tells the Sun-Times.

"We are trying to not only improve people's quality of care, but also to reduce the patient load on doctors, pharmacies and emergency rooms," Ghaffar said.

The new health guides are part of Walgreen's overhaul of 20 Chicago stores to embed technology into the customer experience, company officials say. The new locations also will feature self-serve kiosks where patients can request refills on prescriptions and other housekeeping tasks.

On the runway for the Walgreens online initiative is a new avatar associated with the company's online services, as a "virtual caregiver." Called Flornce, she would analyze a patient's health data--weight, exercise, glucose reading and possibly other biometrics--and make suggestions for the patient to improve his or her health. She also will hand out coupons and other goodies to reward healthy choices or improvement, the Sun-Times reports.

To learn more:
- check out the Chicago Sun-Times article
- read the Walgreen's press release