imageIn the U.S., if you walk 3 miles in any direction, there’s a 3 in 4 chance you’ll find yourself in front of a Walgreens pharmacy. The company often says that 75% of people in the America live within 3 miles of a Walgreens storefront.

What’s a pharmacy storefront anymore? Both Walgreens and CVS are re-defining that with a dizzying pace of new announcements. The latest for Walgreens: people in 25 states will be able to use the Walgreens app on their smartphones to access physicians virtually. Consumers living in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin are now included in Walgreens MDLive telemedicine program.

Walgreens has been working with MDLive, the telehealth provider, since December 2014, when the company launched the project in California and Michigan.

The MDLive connection lives on the multifaceted Walgreens mobile app: once downloaded on a smartphone, the consumer can opt to engage in a telemedicine visit with a board-certified physician, 24×7, explained in Walgreens’ announcement expanding their relationship with MDLive.

imageWith this move, combined with the company’s announcement of acquiring pharmacy competitor Rite-Aid, Walgreens continues to expand its footprint and brand in retail health, further extending outside of the bricks-and-mortar pharmacy to peoples’ homes and on-the-go via mobile telehealth. This is part of the broad concept of personlly connected health, cHealth, which I discussed here in Health Populi earlier this week. Consumers increasingly expect a connected health experience, the kind of digital connectivity and service levels experienced in everyday life when banking, arranging travel, booking restaurant reservations, and managing photos, among other activities.

Walgreens is also growing Balance Rewards, the company’s loyalty program. This enables consumers who link their personal health devices to the program to earn points which accumulate into dollars available to spend at Walgreens. [Truth: yesterday, I used $12 accumulated through this program at my neighborhood Walgreens to purchase various OTC products. I link my Withings scale, Jawbone UP24, and Fitbit One to the program]. Walgreens extends the program now to certain devices that measure blood glucose and blood pressure can earn points via the Walgreens Connect app. The sensor data from peoples’ activity trackers virtually moves through the Qualcomm Life’s 2net cloud platform.

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  So I ask: “what is a pharmacy?” Consulting, Merriam-Webster online, and the Google dictionary, we find the simple response: “drugstore.” Walgreens and its competitors in the strictly-pharmacy category have been expanding the concept for sometime, with the addition of retail and urgent care clinics, fresh food and mini-groceries, and immunizations for flu and travel. Of course, the “drugstore” channel is also expanding via specialty drug company acquisitions (such as CVS’s Omnicare purchase) and pharmacy benefit management (PBMs, like Rite-Aid’s purchase of EnvisionRX earlier this year).

Now Walgreens is expanding telehealth, moving the company further into health care services. Earlier this year, CVS announced 3 alliances for telehealth, with AmericanWell, Doctor on Demand, and Teladoc.

imageBut wait — Wegmans, my favorite grocer, is piloting telemedicine with Doctor on Demand in Allentown, PA, Buffalo, NY, and Fairfax, VA. And Wegmans, like other modern grocery stores, has a pharmacy, a growing array of homeopathic remedies, nutritionists on-hand, and in some cases, retail clinics.

What’s the difference between a pharmacy, a grocery store, and a drug store?

The distinctions are fading. When it comes to retail health, it’s about convenience, transparency and value. And those factors have begun to motivate health consumers to seek healthcare in these new-and-improved formats, far from the hospitals and physician offices where parking is difficult, prices are vague, and appointments hard-to-get.