JPM21: Walgreens announces creation of new tech startup aimed at developing comprehensive patient platform

Walgreens is establishing a tech-enabled healthcare startup with the goal of creating a new patient platform that blends physical and digital tools, company leadership said.

Executives with the retail pharmacy chain detailed the tech startup, which is expected to launch in the fourth quarter of the company’s fiscal year, during a talk Wednesday during the annual J.P. Morgan healthcare conference. The decision is part of a larger trend in the pharmacy space of retail chains aiming to expand their digital offerings.

“We see an extremely complex healthcare system in the U.S. where the patients are confused,” said Walgreens Chief Financial Officer James Kehoe on the need for the startup. “Somebody with multiple conditions getting calls from three advisers.”

He added that “everybody has a point of view on how they manage their health. We believe we can, because of our assets, provide a unique interface between patients and partners to create an ecosystem of healthcare.”

Kehoe said that the startup will use the brand equity of Walgreens and consumer trust combined with neutrality among payers or providers.

“We are company agnostic and continue to operate agnostic and work with everybody in a partnership mentality,” he said.

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The startup will put together a customer engagement platform that includes a personalization engine.

“Ultimately, it is the patient that matters, and we will provide a platform based on a health marketplace that allows each patient to find care, get care and manage care,” Kehoe said.

He added that the startup wouldn’t fully build the platform itself but through a series of partnerships, and the startup will be a “company within a company.”

He gave an example of a contract with My Med to help build out a medical adherence section.

Kehoe said that a digital or physical-only platform can be successful.

“It is the intersection of the two and offering every single patient their choice on who they want to manage their healthcare,” he said.

The startup's announcement is the latest bid by a retail pharmacy chain to transform their stores to offer more digital options.

Rite Aid, for example, announced last fall it was rolling out a rebrand of its stores to put the pharmacist front and center. The stores will include virtual care rooms to enable customers to remotely connect to any care teams.

Pharmacy chains are also competing with a new online offering from Amazon, which rolled out a pharmacy arm late last year.