Walgreens COO says pandemic has been an 'accelerator' for VillageMD plans

In the months after Walgreens announced a $1 billion partnership with VillageMD to build hundreds of primary care clinics next to its retail pharmacy stores, there are still only a few locations in Houston.

But that will be changing quickly, said Walgreens' co-Chief Operating Officer Alex Gourlay.

Within the next fiscal year, the company plans to have at least 40 locations open, Gourlay said, speaking at the HLTH 2020 virtual conference Monday. The company has previously said it expects to have at least 500 locations open within the next five years.

"Putting together the family doctor with the local pharmacist, with health information that you provide to us in a trusted way that is all HIPAA-compliant and providing really local solutions for local patients and customers—both physically and digitally—is an idea that will help to open up the front door of healthcare to primary care in America," Gourlay said.

RELATED: Walgreens plans to open up to 700 primary care clinics as part of $1B investment in VillageMD

Walgreens has been aggressively working to establish itself as a force in the consumer health market, fighting back rivals like CVS Health and other competitors in the pharmacy retail space.

In April 2019, Walgreens and VillageMD, a national primary care provider based in Chicago, teamed up to open five new 2,500-square-foot primary care clinics next to Walgreens stores in the Houston area as a pilot project. They announced the expansion after seeing success in that market, they said.

As part of Walgreens' strategy, primary care doctors and pharmacists will co-locate at stores in an integrated model to provide healthcare services to patients, the companies said. The clinics, which will be staffed by more than 3,600 primary care providers recruited by VillageMD, will accept a wide range of health insurance options.

Along with primary care services, the clinics also will provide 24/7 care via telehealth and at-home visits.

The pandemic has created an interesting environment to ramp up these efforts, Gourlay said. 

"We’re finding the interest is accelerating," Gourlay said. "The adoption is so strong. People are getting so used to having visits through their home health care providers, their doctors and their pharmacists through technology through all this. So I think it’s an accelerator."