Walgreens shares digital adoption data, announces UnitedHealthcare partnership

By Jonah Comstock
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Alex_GourlaySince Walgreens merged with UK drugstore chain Boots last year, the company has been ramping up its digital strategy and has announced a slew of strategic partnerships with companies like Qualcomm Life, WebMD, MDLive, and PatientsLikeMe. Walgreens President and Walgreens Boots Alliance EVP Alex Gourlay, who transitioned over from Boots in the merger, spoke at HIMSS this week in Chicago about each of those deals and some of the larger strategy behind them.

Gourlay laid out a three-point strategy for Walgreens: becoming patient-led, promoting innovation, and good partnerships.

"We truly believe that patient-led and consumer-led is not important just today, but in the future," Gourlay said. "And we start and finish everything with the insights we have on our patients and consumers. We know as a brand and believe as a brand that innovation is critical, especially shared, joint innovation that really makes a difference in people’s lives. And importantly, we want to become a strategic partner of choice. It’s really important to Walgreens-Boots Alliance, it’s incredibly important to the healthcare market here in the US that we work together to create better solutions."

At HIMSS, Walgreens announced a partnership with UnitedHealthcare, wherein UHC members in Arizona and Illinois will have access to Walgreens Balance Rewards program, directly via their Health4Me app from UHC. 

“Through our Balance Rewards for healthy choices initiative, Walgreens encourages participants to adopt simple steps that can positively affect a person’s health, and collaborating with leading health plans such as UnitedHealthcare can further enhance the reach and impact of these programs,” Adam Pellegrini, divisional vice president of Digital Health for Walgreens, said in a statement.

Gourlay said that Walgreens now has 82 million active members in its Balance Rewards Program. What began as a typical retail consumer rewards program has grown into a BJ Fogg-inspired behavior change platform that promotes both healthy activity and tracking and recording health information.

"Last year, we put together a few of our core assets to put together a new healthcare program for our customers," Gourlay said. "We added as a reward activity, not just for purchasing a product but also for adopting a healthy lifestyle. Now you can earn points for various activities from walking and running to recording blood pressure and blood glucose readings. Over 800,000 patients and customers have joined since launch and nearly 2 billion points have been awarded free of charge for these behavior changes."

Gourlay shared some additional adoption data for Walgreens products and partnerships: More than 16,000 people have now signed up for the digital coaching program Walgreens launched in collaboration with WebMD, over 80,000 now access third-party data, like the data from PatientsLikeMe, through their Walgreens.com dashboard, and more than 40 million new patients have gained access to Walgreens prescription refill service via a third party app that uses Walgreens' API. Over all, the Walgreens app is the third-most downloaded retail app in the United States, he said, and the number one brick and mortar pharmacy app.

Gourlay also followed up on news from the mHealth Summit, when Walgreens announced a partnership with MDLive to offer video visits through its app for customers in Michigan and California. They plan to roll out in Illinois next month, he said, with plans for another 25 states by the end of 2015.

But Walgreens' biggest news at the event pertained to medication adherence. Not only is Walgreens launching a medication-adherence-focused Apple Watch app in May, but the company has been collecting adherence data about its balance rewards program.

Soon-to-be-published data shows that email and text message reminders can create a 2 percent boost in medication adherence, and that hypertensive and diabetic patients who use a wearable device and walk one mile a day are 7 percent more adherent to their medication than those that don't do either of those things. Furthermore, hypertension patients who used a connected device to track their blood pressure were 3.9 percent more adherent to treatments and patients with diabetes who used a connected glucose meter were 10.9 percent more adherent to their medications.