Walgreens has joined with MDLive to roll out virtual doctor visits through its already established telehealth services program. America’s largest drugstore chain launched the service yesterday for users in California and Michigan, offering customers 24/7 online access to U.S. board-certified doctors. The Illinois based pharmaceutical giant plans to provide the new service to other states over the coming years, with Illinois residents able to expect access by late 2015.
The feature is accessible via a mobile app which allows patients to video-chat with certified doctors via a computer, tablet or smartphone. The app, which Walgreens claims are a “first-of-its-kind platform,” is available for both iOS and Android devices and enables users to seek advice for non-emergency conditions such as earaches, sore throats and rashes as well as upper respiratory tract infections.
Dr. Harry Leider, Walgreens’ chief medical officer said in a press release that the company is pleased to be partnered with MDLive in what he called a “natural extension” of their existing health services. “We’re delighted to work with MDLive to provide our patients with a leading telehealth solution that will allow them to conveniently address their health conditions and needs with a medical professional,” Dr. Leider said.
MDLive, has been providing online health services via a cloud-based Virtual Medical Office software platform since the company’s inception in 2009. CEO Randy Parker said MDLive is thrilled to be in partnership with Walgreens for the virtual doctor visit roll out. Parker said the Walgreen’s app was a ‘first,’ in that customers are able to access a drugstore’s website and mobile apps to gain access to medical advice, as well as receive prescriptions via a “secure, online video platform.”
Operating from their Florida headquarters, the virtual health specialists provide a platform that offers a secure connection between patients and healthcare professionals through voice, video and email. The system also links to patient medical records and lab results, as well as payment and insurance systems.
Walgreens’ virtual doctor service is a follow-up to their 2013 launched Pharmacy Chat, which currently averages 9,000 chats a week. The company’s new app is expected to deliver 2 million customers per day to MDLive which, according to their CEO, has 2,000 doctors on board. “Consumers are demanding to do everything through mobile,” Parker said.
Dr. Leider said the combination of an increase in numbers of people signing up for health insurance and a shortage of primary care physicians has created a growing market for telehealth services. He said Walgreens’ app allows patients to make appointments at times convenient to themselves, and added that some insurance companies cover telemedicine services.
A virtual doctor visit lasts 10 to 15 minutes and costs $49 with patients able to make appointments to suit their own schedules, and as Walgreens rolls out the service with MDLive, the company predicts that the telehealth industry will be worth $1.5 trillion in five years. Leider said the company was aiming to address increasing demand for convenient services. “The idea of convenience … is really becoming a dominant theme in health care,” Leider said. “I think this will become a normal part of health care in three to five years.”
By Monica Grant
Photo by Intel Free Press – Flickr License