Rite Aid launches Web consultations

BOSTON —In what might very well represent a glimpse into the future of pharmacy retailing, Rite Aid and American Well last month set the stage for increased patient access to the Rite Aid pharmacist through the Internet.

Rite Aid will become the first drug store chain in the nation to bring American Well’s Online Care services to market—services that feature a patient-friendly, live and interactive interface with a pharmacist when and where that customer wants to connect.

Today, it’s another way to touch a Rite Aid pharmacist. Patients will be able to initiate consultations from the convenience of their home, work or in select stores where the service will be available in the privacy of consultation rooms. During each consultation, Rite Aid pharmacists will be able to review the patient’s history, speak with and see the patient, and provide medication consultations and advice. The system will automatically compile a full record of each conversation when completed, supporting care continuity.

Tomorrow, the scope and breadth of such services could be a whole other story. American Well’s Online Care services actually have been on the market since 2006, when Blue Cross Blue Shield of Hawaii signed on and placed its physicians into a virtual on-call queue. That system is available to any person throughout Hawaii, whether he or she is a member of Blue Cross or not, and collects either the co-pay or the full cost of a 10-minute physician consultation as part of the interface, Roy Schoenberg, president and CEO of American Well, told Drug Store News. Doctors who participated in that program opted in, Schoenberg said.

The creation of a virtual consultation room represents significant cost savings in the delivery of health care, Schoenberg noted. First, it eliminates the need to provide a physical location that’s open and staffed beyond normal business hours. Second, the participating healthcare practitioners can either counsel a national patient base from a central location or from the comfort of their offices.

One factor that could make services like this a potential game-changer is the bringing together of multiple practitioners—physician, pharmacist and retail clinician—who all have access to the same electronic medical record. “When this system speaks to all of these [practitioners], it will truly live up to the mission of bringing health care to where the patients are,” he said, noting that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Hawaii already is pursuing the development of that kind of comprehensive care.

The other potential game-changer is when the service becomes available through smartphone devices that quite literally will place a pharmacist in the pocket of a customer when she’s actually at the shelf making a selection. And that day is not too far away. “Mobile-device supports for this system are pending,” Schoenberg said. “You will see it very soon,” he added, especially as more smartphones are able to exchange data streams through the Internet while a user is talking on the phone.

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