Why Walgreens wants to help consumers get better sleep

An economist by training, Giovanni Monti's job at Walgreens is figuring out how the pharmacy giant can expand its reach deeper into the U.S. market. 

Most recently, that work led Monti—who leads the company’s health services—into the matter of sleep. 

More than one-third of U.S. adults don’t get enough sleep, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is important to physicians, because insufficient sleep has been linked to the development and management of a number of chronic diseases and conditions including Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression, the CDC reports.

So, through a collaboration with technology company Philips, Walgreens is now offering sleep solutions and digital tools through its digital marketplace as part of its ongoing focus on chronic disease management.

It's part of the digital marketplace, Find Care, Walgreens launched last year to connect consumers with local and digital healthcare services.

“We’re committed to providing omnichannel solutions to help meet the varying and evolving needs of our customers and patients, where and when they need it,” Monti said. “Expanding Walgreens Find Care’s chronic care solutions into sleep further delivers on that commitment to our customers and patients, bringing convenient, accessible healthcare solutions to help them lead healthier lives.”

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It's one example of Monti—who also leads healthcare innovation at parent company Walgreens Boots Alliance—believing pharmacists can deliver health outcomes by engaging with customers and patients, not just in pharmacies and stores but digitally as well.

The pharmacy and retail giant has been aggressively working to establish itself as a force in the growing market for digital healthcare and web-driven patient care. The company has been beefing up its technology capabilities as it faces competition from CVS and industry disrupter Amazon. That has included Walgreens teaming up with two Silicon Valley tech giants—Verily, Alphabet Inc.’s life sciences research arm, and Microsoft.

Walgreens' work with Verily centers on multiple projects to help patients with chronic conditions. One area of focus with the Microsoft partnership is a suite of chronic disease management applications, Pat Carroll, M.D., formerly the company’s chief medical officer, said back in June. Monti declined to discuss those partnerships. 

“We developed Walgreens Find Care because we recognized the need to bring convenient, quality health care services and solutions closer to the communities we serve, not only in our stores and pharmacies but also via our mobile app and Walgreens.com,” he said.

In the past year, Walgreens has nearly doubled the number of healthcare services and solutions available on the Find Care platform, Monti said.

The retail giant has been pushing forward on digital innovation on several fronts.

The Find Care platform has expanded into chronic care management with connected devices and digital therapeutics for patients with diabetes, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The company collaborates with Dexcom, maker of the G6 continuous glucose monitor system, as well as Propeller Health, which offers sensors to monitor usage on a patient’s inhaler.

The company also integrated the digital marketplace with its pharmacy and clinical services.

Through the digital platform, consumers can schedule an appointment for an immunization at a pharmacy, talk with a Walgreens pharmacist or access services such as labs, primary care or urgent care services, teledermatology and online therapy, Monte said.

Another digital innovation, the Boots UK Cystitis Test and Treat Service, launched in the U.K. in July. It's part of a collaboration with technology company Healthy.io to roll out its smartphone-based urinary tract infection testing kit, called Dip.io, in hundreds of pharmacies in that market.

RELATED: Walgreens and Verily announce partnerships for diabetes, medication adherence

And it's offering Philips' clinically validated SmartSleep Analyzer as an online “triage” tool that gives consumers a personalized analysis of their sleep. Philips also has developed wearable devices and monitors to help address snoring. The company’s SmartSleep Better Sleep program combines offline and app-based features to help users sleep better and borrows principles of cognitive behavioral therapy.

These sleep solutions are now available through Walgreens’ digital marketplace. Consumers can also be connected to a healthcare provider for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of their sleep issues, according to the company.

Sleep tends to be a prevalent issue that’s overlooked by patients when meeting with their primary care physician, Monti said. Offering sleep solutions through the Find Care digital marketplace is in line with Walgreens’ efforts to “support and complement the work of physicians via our services and solutions,” he said.