Blue Shield of California, Walgreens aim to serve 'healthcare deserts' with new Health Corner locations

Blue Shield of California wants its members to get health advice as easily as they can buy sunscreen or toothpaste—and it's teaming up with Walgreens so they can do all of those things in one place.

The insurer and the drugstore giant are launching new Health Corners in 12 Walgreens stores in the San Francisco Bay area and Los Angeles County.

A Walgreens Health Corner location
A Walgreens Health Corner (Blue Shield of California)

At the Health Corner locations, Blue Shield members and customers will be able to connect with health advisers who can offer simple in-store care as well as assistance with preventive screenings, chronic care management and medications. The health advisers have clinical backgrounds, such as pharmacists or nurse practitioners.

The partnership seemed a natural fit, D.D. Johnice, vice president of the Health Transformation Lab at Blue Shield of California, said in an interview.

"It really did just sort of leap off the page," Johnice said. "We thought there is an opportunity for us to test and learn and try new things together."

The Health Corners initiative is part of Blue Shield's efforts to transform healthcare and ease access to care and Walgreens' work to expand its patient care offerings. And if all goes well, the companies can use what they learn at this first batch of locations to expand the network and add more services people need.

To start with, the Health Corners will offer blood pressure checks and HbA1c checks for diabetic patients, the companies said in a Wednesday announcement. The advisers can also schedule mammograms, provide test kits for colorectal screenings and assist members with health technology and devices.

The companies decided to include a tech bar because a growing number of people turn to apps, devices and other tech tools to manage their health. The goal isn't necessarily to sell people on new tools, Johnice said, but to ensure those who do use them are able to use them to their full potential.

"We want to be able to have members close the digital divide while we're trying to close the access divide," Johnice said.

Blue Shield and Walgreens said they are planning to open eight more Health Corner locations by midyear. The insurer has been mapping out Walgreens locations that may reach members who don't have other providers nearby, Johnice said.

Some 80% of people in California live within five miles of a Walgreens store, she said, so the Health Corners could be a valuable tool for reaching people who live in healthcare deserts, or more specifically, Blue Shield network deserts.

Through Blue Shield's capabilities, the members' primary care providers and other members of their clinical teams will be kept in the loop with any services they receive at a Health Corner, Johnice said. The goal, she said, is to make it convenient for people to access key screenings and other services at a place the member is likely visiting already.

The companies are considering other services Health Corners could offer in the future. There's "more to come that we think will make this a destination," Johnice said.

The initial batch of Health Corners will also serve as models for what works—and what doesn't—as the partners consider where to expand. The companies plan to harness the data Health Corners generate to determine where there is the greatest need for new locations. They'll also tap the data on visitor feedback and lessons learned to help chart the future course, Johnice said.

The partnership fits within Blue Shield's broader Health Reimagined initiative, an effort to transform healthcare through a slew of population health projects. Walgreens, too, has been building out its healthcare initiatives of late, including a partnership with VillageMD that bulks up its primary care and home health reach.

"Our Health Corner collaboration with Blue Shield will allow its eligible members and our customers to receive access to health and wellness products and services from Health Advisors whenever and wherever it's most convenient for them," said John Do, interim president and chief financial officer of Walgreens Health, in a statement. "This offering, alongside Walgreens Health strategic investments, is another example of how we are working to support patients and help them get and stay healthy across the entire care continuum."