Vice President, Digital Health
New technology, government policies and consumer demand are driving a revolution in the healthcare industry. Adam Pellegrini, vice president of digital health at Walgreens, spoke with eMarketer’s Lisa Barron about the evolution of connected health and what it means for the retailer’s marketing strategy.
eMarketer: How do you define connected health, and what does the concept mean to Walgreens?
Adam Pellegrini: At its core, it’s making sure that health information is fluid and can actually span across not just organizational silos, but silos between multiple organizations using a standard set of protocols. But at a basic level, it’s making it so healthcare professionals can connect with consumers in a way that is compliant with HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] and securely share information—all of which is designed for the betterment of the actual patient.
“Omnichannel digital health means that our customers should be able to go online, offline and back online again to a mobile phone, to a tablet, to a phablet.”
We actually have a very robust connected health strategy in which we have consumers connecting to Walgreens for lifestyle-related activities like our Balance Rewards for healthy choices platform, which is our wearables—the Fitbits, the Misfits—and getting rewards for healthy behaviors. That’s the wellness side.
On the care side, consumers can connect in a HIPAA-secure way with healthcare professionals like pharmacists for guidance and medication help, as well as for connected care scenarios around what we would call “transition to care” and “hospital readmission reduction.” So for us, connected health is that “liquefaction” of health data that can flow between professionals and consumers in a way that protects the consumers’ privacy but still allows the care team to deliver care.
eMarketer: What do you think are the major drivers behind the evolution of the healthcare industry?
Pellegrini: Obviously the Affordable Care Act and meaningful use have driven this groundswell of connected health. The incentives for providers, for health systems and for major EMR [electronic medical record] players like Epic and Greenway and Cerner to interoperate with each other have been one of the pivotal drivers.
If you think about it, five, 10 years ago we probably wouldn’t have these things on our wrists or on our sides giving us numbers and those numbers actually meaning something to us. But now, to us, we know we want to hit 10,000 steps a day; we know that we want to maintain our blood glucose levels. The consumers and consumers in general—because of technology and digital health—are becoming more self-aware, and self-aware of their health and wellness. And so I think you are getting a confluence of these government incentives and the natural desire for people to be connected to each other.
It is now just coming to be expected that connectivity can exist. It’s becoming expected that I can simply connect digitally with my healthcare professional or member of the care team and take care of very simple things. I think the evolution of digital in the consumer’s life is creating an expectation. Healthcare itself is being fueled in multiple ways to try to meet that expectation. But I think the consumer being in control is really what’s driving that as well.
I liken it to everybody using bill pay and online financial services from their bank or from a website. That now is just expected—it’s just part of the package. I think we are seeing that same evolution in healthcare.
eMarketer: What is Walgreens hoping to accomplish overall in the connected health field?
Pellegrini: I think for Walgreens, at the end of the day, it’s about providing convenience and a seamless digital experience for consumers. Oftentimes I refer to it as omnichannel. Omnichannel digital health means that our customers should be able to go online, offline and back online again to a mobile phone, to a tablet, to a phablet. And that experience should be seamless, and it should be cohesive.
When a consumer is managing their medication, when they are getting virtual consult, virtual visits from a doctor, whether they are getting digital coaching with our new WebMD partnership—we’ll be launching a digital coaching platform—they should be able to have that digital health experience online, but just as easily walk into the store and continue the conversation.
We know that by creating these convenient, seamless virtual care experiences, it benefits our customers, and it really drives toward that idea of really helping America get healthy. We are a healthcare organization. The consumerization of healthcare is really aligning well with the retail health model. People are going to the store; they talk to a pharmacist and get a prescription. They now go to a healthcare clinic and see a nurse practitioner. We want to make sure now that when they leave, or before they come, the online and mobile experiences map to that perfectly.
eMarketer: What are your strategic growth drivers?
Pellegrini: Our core is our digital pharmacy experience. That’s something that we have been working on for quite some time. It has excelled. I think some would consider it the leading digital pharmacy experience mobilewise and webwise. So no matter what, that is a strategic core driver for us. We want to make sure that there are a lot of things we can do to augment, amplify, enhance the core. But that truly is our core. Making all of the elements of that seamless and frictionless are critical to us.