Walgreens, Health Insurers Push to Expand Telemedicine Services at Home

In a push toward supporting in-home care, Walgreens (NYSE: WAG), along with national health insurers, have expanded their telemedicine initiatives, hoping to reach millions more consumers by next year. 

The Deerfield, Illinois-based national drugstore chain, which launched its telehealth smartphone app late last year, said it will be expanding the tech to both tablets and personal computers, according to a report by The Kansas City Star.

At the same time, UnitedHealth Group and the Blue Cross-Blue Shield insurer Anthem are preparing to make their own telemedicine services available to about 40 million more people by 2016. 

“UnitedHealth Group just started covering telemedicine visits earlier this year for about a million people with employer-sponsored health plans,” the article states. “The insurer aims to expand that to 20 million customers next year.”

Additionally, Anthem’s LiveHealth Online service started in 2013 by helping a few thousand people, but the insurer now expects 20 million of its customers to have access by next year.

For patients, such virtual visits can have big benefits. They’re cheaper, they’re more convenient and, in many cases, they make health care easier to access — as programs offered by Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. and the insurers give customers around-the-clock access to doctors who can diagnose and treat conditions like allergies, a sinus infection or pink eye that don’t require a physical exam, The Kansas City Star reports. 

And telemedicine is especially helpful when it comes to the elderly, who may have a hard time getting out of the house, or prefer to receive care in the privacy of their own home. 

“I can see a real benefit there,” Robert Wergin, a doctor in Milford, Neb., told The Kansas City Star, noting that he expects to do more telemedicine visits in the future as more insurers begin to cover it. 

Read the full Kansas City Star report here

Written by Emily Study