Northwell Health is partnering with Walgreens over the next five years to explore how two companies can further expand and improve retail health services, the firms announced Thursday. The deal is reflects the evolution of retail health clinics as a trusted healthcare partner to hospitals.
Northwell Health telehealth providers will serve customers using the Walgreens Find Care digital platform across New York state. Walgreens launched the platform in 2018 to connect customers to in-person and virtual healthcare providers.
Northwell Health and Walgreens aim to offer lower costs and better access in underserved areas. The partnership grew from joint efforts to hold COVID-19 testing and vaccination drives at Walgreens stores in vulnerable communities, said Dr. Debbie Salas-Lopez, Northwell Health senior vice president of community and population health.
"Our service area, while big, can only reach a certain part," Salas-Lopez said. "Walgreens or a Rite Aid may have a store in or near a community where we don't have a primary care office or an urgent care center."
As part of the agreement, all 76,000 members of North New Hyde Park, New York-based Northwell Health's workforce can use Walgreens as an in-network pharmacy and fill non-specialty prescriptions at the drugstore giant's retail locations.
The companies will seek to develop new digital offerings and pharmacy services through in-person and virtual retail health sites in an effort to advance health equity throughout New York, Salas-Lopez said.
Northwell Health and Walgreens could also partner to return retail health clinics to select Walgreens stores. Walgreens exited that business in 2019 when it closed 160 in-store clinics in favor of collaborating with local health systems to operate its remaining 220 sites.
"This is really just a continuation of a broader strategy to deliver quality, affordable healthcare locally in the patient's neighborhood so that its really easy access," said Jeff Bruneteau, Walgreens's regional vice president of eastern operations.
The deal illustrates the evolving role of retail clinics since they debuted in the early 2000s. While retail health clinics were previously viewed by hospitals as competitors, more traditional providers are seeing partnerships with retail clinics as opportunities to expand their community outreach efforts. That's been especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"People are more open-minded about how everyone can play a role in this space, including urgent care clinics, retail clinics and telehealth," Salas-Lopez said. "The delivery of care is different, and it's about access, it's about convenience and it's about low cost, and these types of partnerships extend that philosophy."