Two weeks ago at the company’s AnalystDay conference, Greg Wasson, the CEO of Walgreens, told the audience that the pharmacy chain was on a mission to “own well.”

In the New York Times magazine dated November 12, 2010, an article titled Fresh Approach  talks about Walgreens work in low-income Chicago neighborhoods coupling with greengrocers to bring “food oases” to inner cities.

Two weeks ago, I learned that Walgreens is teaming with Orbitz to provide travelers’ health services. Married to an international banker who travels globally, I am pleased to know he can get his esoteric inoculations in local, convenient retail mode. Walgreens’ data found that 25% of peoples’ holiday trips are interrupted by illness.

This week, the AARP/Walgreens Wellness Tour via custom-equipped buses tallied its two-millionth free health screening in over 3,000 underserved communities nationwide and in Puerto Rico.

Earlier this year, Walgreens began to offer a live chat service with pharmacists.

Finally, as seniors’ enrollment into Medicare Part D prescription drug plans began this week, Walgreens is offering enrollees personalized counseling that help sort out the optimal drug plans based on the person’s individual current medications, calculating every plan’s annual costs, monthly premiums, co-pays (for generics and brands), and estimated “doughnut hole” gap.

[Let me be clear and say that Walgreens is not a client of THINK-Health.]

Walgreens’ 26,000 pharmacists serve 6 million people every day. Two-thirds of Americans live within 3 miles of a Walgreens, which operates 7,600 retail stores, 730 worksite and retail clinics (under the brand Take Care), and over 100 pharmacies on university campuses.

Walgreens’ CEO said that, “The opportunities…that arise are more focused on the prevention and management of chronic disease, and that’s where we are headed.”

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  The recipe for wellness to Walgreens, then, combines fruits and vegetables; retail and workplace clinics; convenient locations; and, helping customers navigate the labyrinthine American health system. These are some key ingredients for helping people manage health.

Walgreens is over-the-moon with the prospect of the nation adding 30+ million covered health citizens to the insurance pool through health reform. With the University of Michigan analysis finding that the primary care workforce shortage will compromise peoples’ ability to find patient-centered medical homes, retail health via Walgreens and other pharmacies can play a strategic and important role in helping people access primary care and align with a virtual medical home:

  1. To help them stay well and prevent illness, with access to healthy foods and evidence-based health-ful products;
  2. To diagnose early through screening programs such as the AARP/Walgreens Wellness Tour and less formal in-store screening fairs;
  3. To receive ongoing counsel via live chat with a Walgreens pharmacist.

The true medical home would incorporate an EHR underpinning continuity of care. But in absence of this best-case scenario, retail pharmacies can support peoples’ individual health engagement. Walgreens connects patients’ prescription data to Microsoft HealthVault, allowing consumers access to their personal health information once siloed in the pharmacy database. Susannah Fox of the Pew Internet & American Life Project was also intrigued by Walgreens and wondered about pharmacy’s role in supporting patient-to-patient health networks.

In closing this post, let’s remember that Walgreens isn’t the only game in town: find a Walgreens on one corner of a metro neighborhood and you’ll likely find a CVS, RiteAid, Target, or Walmart across the street. I’ve written before on the concept of the pharmacy as health hub here in Health Populi, which discussed Rite Aid’s connection with American Well’s telehealth service. Rite Aid Online Care debuted this month at the American Diabetes Association meeting.