Once a way for people in rural areas to access medical specialists, telemedicine is now being piloted by Rite Aid at its in-store clinics. Competitors Walgreens and CVS may not be far behind. Where does that leave traditional healthcare providers?
This article originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of Medicine on the Net.
Earlier this year, Rite Aid became the first retailer to enter telemedicine in a big way when it announced plans to roll out its NowClinic program to 58 in-store health clinics in Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh.
"Given the rapidly changing healthcare landscape, we believe that telehealth services such as our NowClinic will play an extremely important role in healthcare in the future," said Robert Thompson, executive vice president of pharmacy for Rite Aid. "Rite Aid's online care services provide customers with convenient, affordable, and efficient access to care."
Rite Aid has been dabbling in telemedicine since 2011, when it began testing NowClinic at nine stores in Detroit. The service allows health clinic patients to have a private, one-on-one consultation via video conference with a physician from OptumHealth—rather than a nurse practitioner who handles in-store visits. The 10-minute consultations cost $45, and physicians either diagnose a condition and prescribe medication or tell patients to visit an emergency room or see a specialist.
While Rite Aid is the first retailer to launch a telemedicine pilot at its in-store clinics, others are likely to follow in the highly competitive retail pharmacy business. Walgreens has a network of 700 Take Care clinics in its stores, and CVS has Minute Clinics in more than 650 locations.
"I don't think you'll see either Walgreens or CVS sit on the sidelines for very long," said Benjamin Forstag, senior director of communications for the American Telemedicine Association (ATA).