Walgreens' clinics will adopt the Epic EHR system

Plays catchup with CVS Health

Overshadowed in the news about Walgreens acquiring the No. 3 retail chain, Rite Aid, was its activities in healthcare clinics, which are generally walk-in facilities staffed by nurses (sometimes nurse practitioners) to provide routine checkups, flu shots and the like. Walgreens manages (or owns) 401 clinics nationally, and there are numerous cross-connections with health systems on a regional basis. If the Rite Aid acquisition goes through unchanged, that company’s 30-some clinics (acquired as Redi-Clinic a year ago) would be added.

Now, Walgreens has announced that it is adopting the Epic electronic health-records (EHR) system, widely used by health systems to digitize and store patient records and data. In theory, it will provide a closer connection between, say, a local clinic and hospital, thus providing better care coordination. (E-prescribing, a feature of most EHRs, has been happening independently of most EHRs, and is now widely adopted by both pharmacies and physicians’ offices.)

“This state-of-the-industry EHR will enable more seamless communication with health systems and local providers, and gives us enhanced capabilities to deliver better health outcomes through greater care coordination and interoperability,” said Patrick Carroll, MD, chief medical officer for Healthcare Clinics. “As our clinics play an increasingly important role in health care, supporting the health care system, provider practices and patients’ medical homes, care coordination can be critical. This will benefit our patients, clinic providers and partners, and serves as an instrumental part of our strategic growth plan.”

But Walgreens is playing catchup with its rival, CVS Health, both for EHR connectivity and clinic growth. CVS announced its 1,000th MinuteClinic last month, and has goal of having 1,500 in the next couple years. And it adapted the Epic EHR over a year ago.

For the pharma industry, the pharmacy clinic movement represents opportunities for limited types of drugs, primarily vaccines, respiratory products and some acute-care treatments. (Some retail clinics, however, have physicians on staff and can address broader health concerns.) On the EHR side, unlike many other EHR systems (there are over 500 vendors, although the field is beginning to consolidate), EPIC by and large excludes communications from pharma inside its systems. Given the substantial number of hours many physicians spend working with their EHR platforms, that communications channel remains a high priority for pharma marketers.