Q&A: Walgreens CMO on VillageMD closures

Q&A: Walgreens CMO on VillageMD closures

Last week, Walgreens announced its tech-enabled value-based care provider VillageMD would close clinics in Florida in a bid to increase profitability, and earlier this week confirmed to Becker’s it would close all its Illinois clinics in April.  

Chief medical officer at Walgreens, Dr. Sashi Moodley, sat down with MobiHealthNews at ViVE24 to discuss the current state of Walgreens work in healthcare and the closures of VillageMD clinics.

MobiHealthNews: Can you give an overview of Walgreens’ current work in healthcare?

Dr. Sashi Moodley: We definitely have a lot of things going on. Just in the last few months, if you’ve followed the headlines, we’ve launched a new virtual care program that is live in nine states. Right now, it’s direct-to-consumer, but over time, I think we’ll try to get in-network with insurance and expand the set of conditions, and over time, I think we also want to expand the states we serve. But so far, we’ve had pretty good demand for the service, and it’s been great to kind of just see the stories that we get, you know, patients being able to have a seamless experience. 

To step back for a second, if you look at where patients go when they have a non-emergency, kind of not a major issue, 50% of them end up going to the pharmacy as their first stop. And right now, we serve our patients with a variety of different diagnostic tests and other treatments over the counter, but, you know, for example, if a consumer buys a urinary test strip, for example, and has a positive test, they then have to go find an appointment with their doctor, or go to an urgent care or ER, and anyone knows that can sometimes be quite inconvenient, take multiple weeks to get an appointment.

So, what we want to do is try to address that unmet need, and so trying to create a very seamless experience for patients. And so, you know, if they have a positive test, for example, they can go on the platform, see a doctor within 15 minutes, and if warranted, receive the antibiotic and then have that sent to the pharmacy of their choice, and, if it’s Walgreens, pick it up that same day or get it delivered to their home. We want to kind of blend that physical and digital experience for patients.

MHN: Consumers embraced virtual care during COVID, but that enthusiasm may be waning, and VillageMD is closing many clinics. How is Walgreens ensuring it is keeping patients interested in using this technology?

Dr. Moodley: So virtual care is one modality out of many that we have. I think if you step back for a second, we’ve got, I think, 10 million interactions a day with consumers across the country, and those are through all of our different channels: digital, in-store, and even through our in-person care delivery companies. And so, we’re trying to tailor our experience to the patients that we serve, because every patient is a little different, and care looks different. 

And so, something like virtual care lends itself to a direct-to-consumer model, more of a potentially cash-paid model. And then you’ve got care delivery models on the other end of the spectrum that are much better positioned for value-based care models, and we’re doing both. 

And so, it’s not an “or” it’s an “and,” right? We serve so many people across the country who have a diverse set of needs, that we’re trying to tailor our care models to address what patients really want. And we’re trying to be very consumer-centric, and that is our DNA as a retailer. And so, that would be my kind of thinking around this – it’s not a this or this, it’s a this and this, and, you know, how do we engage patients in the way they want to be engaged? And I think over time, as patients change their preferences, we will adapt as well so that we can remain relevant.

MHN: What sort of testing does the company do to ensure it’s adapting to consumers’ wants?

Dr. Moodley: I think virtual care is a good example of where we launched in nine markets with a discrete set of services to test out what was the demand: How much do patients actually want to pay? Are we actually providing a better experience than what they’re getting today? And, you know, as we get those proof points, we’ll continue to iterate and launch new services. And I think you’ll see us, hopefully over the next few months, continue to grow and expand. I think we always try to keep the consumer, the patient, at the center, and really understand what the experience is through their lens, and then go back to the drawing board and iterate as we need to, and then scale certain models and where we see things that may not be working the way we want, and deprioritize those things.

MHN: What kind of challenges has Walgreens faced?

Dr. Moodley: As we look through our different models, trying to figure out which models we prioritize in which markets. We’ve got a lot of different solutions, and we’re thinking through how we can build density and Centers of Excellence really in different markets. So that’s an ongoing exercise.

So, I think we just have a lot of things going on, and we’re trying to prioritize and figure out which models we’ll focus on, and in which geographies we’re focusing. We also know there’s a huge opportunity there to work with doctors that we don’t necessarily employ, whether they’re independent doctors, solo practitioners, medical groups, or even health systems. There’s a lot more we can do there. And so, I think, we’re also going to, over time, scale some of those models.

MHN: How do you solve those problems?

Dr. Moodley: It’s an iterative process. As you mentioned, the [VillageMD] closures. I think we’re learning as we go. At the end of the day, we want to have a scalable, sustainable clinical model that’s delivering high-quality care and delivering lower costs. 

And as you had earlier mentioned, patient preferences change, and so we have to adapt. So, I think we have to remain nimble as we are, and you’ll continue to see our models evolve and, as I mentioned, prioritize certain areas and deprioritize others as we learn more about what’s working and where we want to focus on.

MHN: Is that what happened with the [VillageMD] closures? Some things that the company thought would hit did not hit?

Dr. Moodley: Again, it’s back to focusing on where we have density and where we’re able to deliver on our promise of providing high-quality care. I think there’s a lot we can do. It’s such a massive company, and in so many states – in 9,000 stores – and all the engagements. And I think we just want to make sure that we’re focusing our efforts in the areas where we can drive the most value.

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