December 14, 2021

Primary Care Destinations Keep Changing; So Should Your Plans

doctor having meeting

Healthcare providers – and their locations – are not who, or where, they used to be.

Once, patients usually sought healthcare and prescription medicines by visiting the private offices of a primary care physician (or nurse practitioner or physician assistant). But today?

First: You may not go anywhere: Telemedicine is used for 1 in 6 visits.

If you do go somewhere in person: You probably don’t go to a private-practicing HCP: The majority of primary care physicians do not work in independent physician-owned practices.

And, these days, you might be having your prescription delivered to your door without leaving home. Or, you may be going to your pharmacy – not after the visit with your HCP, but for it: Retail pharmacy, as we first pointed out last year, is becoming a major player in providing primary care.

A Trend Gaining Traction
Recent news demonstrates how the trend of pharmacies providing primary care is gaining traction, with many major players adding broader healthcare services to their stores. Here are a few examples of how pharmacies (and others) continue to hop into the primary-care pool:

Walgreens plans to build thousands of primary care clinics inside its stores by 2027, offering full-service visits and lab tests along with prescriptions through a partnership with VillageMD. It’s also adding “health corners” offering OTC advice to 3,000 of its 9,000 stores. CEO Roz Brewer told Forbes that their goal is to “keep people from returning to the system of healthcare,” instead keeping them well and healthy. In addition to its stake in VillageMD, Walgreens also has partnerships and investments with CareCentrix for post-acute and home-care management, and Shields Health Solutions for specialty pharmacy care.

CVS continues to hire doctors, as they turn some stores into “Health Hubs” offering clinical services. More futuristically, they’re also piloting self-driving prescription delivery vehicles in Houston, TX. They’re closing 10% of their locations in order to focus on these broader care delivery concerns. CVS, of course, purchased Aetna in 2018.

As Walmart continues to add clinics to its stores, it has also acquired MeMD in order to pursue telehealth offerings.

Amazon Pharmacy continues to offer mail-order services (now, you can refill a prescription by asking Alexa!) and Amazon Care is now providing medical services to the 141,000 covered employees of Hilton. Among other partnerships, Amazon is working with Crossover Health to figure out the vagaries of telemedicine.

And it’s not just the usual suspects. Healthcare has become part of many businesses’ business plans, including a few that might be news to you, like:

Best Buy is getting into the health business, purchasing wearable company Current Health and adding healthcare – in particular, virtual care – to their business goals. 

Dollar General has hired a chief medical officer and is planning to provide healthcare services to rural customers.

Clearly, the benefit to patients is in convenience. It’s easy to see why a patient or their caregiver might prefer a one-stop shop to get tests, advice, diagnosis, and prescription (and cross off the grocery list along the way) – if they even need to leave the house. One already-trusted name, one frequent-shopper card: why make life any more complicated than you have to?

It’s easy to see why a patient or their caregiver might prefer a one-stop shop to get tests, advice, diagnosis, and prescription.

It’s also worth noting that the benefit to HCPs may lie in convenience as well. As healthcare professionals face pandemic burnout at astronomical rates, it may be extremely appealing for both new and mid-career professionals to consider a role in a large corporation, with the predictable schedule and systems that might entail, and without the headaches of administration and personnel they might have in their own practice.

What does this mean for pharma marketers? Our communication strategies should take into consideration the current reality of our HCPs. They may have entirely different workplaces and workflows than those to which we’re accustomed. They may be incentivized to follow not only the guidelines of their professional communities, and payer formularies, but also organizational guidelines.

This is just one of the many trends that we’ve been monitoring in the ongoing evolution of healthcare. And as in many others, the lesson is in being aware of how the industry is changing, and continuing to be nimble in how we adjust to meet those changes.

Author information: Mike Motto is SVP of market access at Intouch Market Access.