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Our Take: Northwell Health, Walgreens form new affiliation to improve care for tre-state area

Sep 20, 2021

Northwell Health and Walgreens entered into a five-year strategic affiliation last week to improve patients’ health and advance health equity throughout the state of New York and beyond.

Based in New Hyde Park, N.Y., Northwell Health is the state’s largest health care provider and private employer. The health system has 23 hospitals and 830 outpatient facilities.

Through the affiliation, Northwell’s telehealth providers can now be accessed on the Walgreens’ Find Care platform. This expands community member’s access to virtual emergency care services from board-certified emergency medicine physicians and pediatric specialists.

In addition, Walgreens is now an in-network pharmacy provider for Northwell’s 76,000 employees. Since the first of the month, Northwell Health employees have had the option of filling their nonspecialty prescriptions at a Walgreens pharmacy.

In a press release announcing the agreement, the two organizations said they are also discussing a retail health clinic collaboration that would give people in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut access to primary care at select Walgreens stores, particularly in medically underserved areas.

“We are very excited to partner with Walgreens to improve health, improve care, and reduce costs through collaborative and innovative opportunities,” said Mark Solazzo, Northwell Health’s chief operating officer. “This affiliation agreement strengthens our resolve and mutual commitment towards community health equity.”

Our Take: About 15 years ago, Walgreens, CVS, and Rite Aid started to establish their walk-in primary care clinics. In the ensuing years, they opened hundreds and hundreds of clinics throughout the country.

But in the last several years, increased competition has led those chains — and other retailers such as Walmart, Target, and even some of the country’s largest grocers — to pair up with hospitals, health systems, and other health care providers. In doing so, they’re able to deliver more comprehensive health care services, both virtually and in their stores.

An early example is the clinical affiliation CVS Caremark formed with MedStar Health in 2014. That affiliation, which entailed the integration of CVS, MinuteClinic, and MedStar Health’s electronic medical record systems, focused on improving patient outcomes and lowering costs through better medication compliance, coordination of care, and chronic disease monitoring.

Today, take a look at Walgreens’ Find Care platform and you’ll find that it can connect users with physicians at dozens of health care provider organizations, including large health systems such as Advocate Health Care, Providence St. Joseph Health, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, and now, Northwell Health.

In the last couple of years, Walgreens has begun to aggressively pursue a larger share of the primary care market through its partnership with VillageMD. The companies currently have Village Medical at Walgreens locations in Texas, Arizona, and Florida and plan to open at least 600 Village Medical at Walgreens locations in over 30 U.S. markets in the next four years. Along with comprehensive primary care services available in the stores, 24/7 care is available via telehealth and at-home visits.

With the same end goal in mind — carving out a greater share of the primary care market — CVS has also been significantly expanding the number of its HealthHub stores, along with the scope of services they provide. Both Walgreens and CVS have shelled out a serious amount of money on technology to support their growth in this area.

Walgreens’ strategic partnership with Microsoft, formed in 2019, has been a crucial factor in the success of the pharmacy chain’s various affiliations with health care providers. That partnership has focused on connecting Walgreens with consumers and health information systems, allowing access to virtual care and other services. It has also focused on engaging consumers, with the goals of improving medication adherence and reducing readmissions and emergency department visits.

Other areas of focus for the Walgreens-Microsoft partnership are expanding personalized health care services and building an ecosystem that facilitates collaboration among payers, providers, and drug companies.

As Walmart, Amazon, Walgreens, CVS, and others continue to expand their reach into the health care market (and more entities take on the combined roles of payer, provider, and pharmacy) the delivery of care is morphing. The increased use of telehealth during the pandemic has hel
On the whole, the changes appear to benefit patients, resulting in more options, better access, lower costs, improved outcomes, and greater convenience. It’s a start. Let’s see how much change the next 10-15 years bring.

What else you need to know
Intermountain Healthcare and SCL Health signed a letter of intent to merge, the organizations announced Thursday. The combined system, which would take the Intermountain Healthcare name, would operate 33 hospitals and 385 clinics in six states: Utah, Idaho, Nevada, Colorado, Montana, and Kansas. There is no geographic overlap in the areas the health systems now serve. While both are not-for-profit health systems, Broomfield, Colo.-based SCL Health is faith-based and Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Healthcare is not. The announcement stated that SCL Health’s hospitals would retain their Catholic names and current practices. Headquarters of the combined entity would be in Salt Lake City, with a regional office in Broomfield. Intermountain’s president and CEO, Dr. Marc Harrison, would serve in the same capacity at the combined health system. SCL Health’s president and CEO, Lydia Jumonville, would remain in her current role for two years and serve on the new board. The health systems plan to sign a definitive agreement by year-end and anticipate closing the merger early next year, pending the required approvals.

An FDA advisory panel recommended on Friday that only adults age 65 or older, people who are at high risk of developing severe COVID-19, and those at high risk of being exposed to the virus — such as health care workers, emergency responders, and teachers — receive booster shots of Pfizer’s vaccine at least six months after receiving the second shot, The Associated Press reported. Experts on the panel voted 16-2 against the plan to give boosters to all fully vaccinated people age 16 or older, and 18-0 in favor of boosters for older adults and high-risk individuals. The FDA is not obligated to follow the panel’s recommendations, and an advisory committee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will meet this week to weigh in on the matter. A spokesman for the White House said the federal government is “ready to provide booster shots to eligible Americans” once the FDA and CDC have concluded their discussions. Decisions on booster shots for those who received Moderna and Johnson & Johnson’s vaccines have not been made yet.

Idaho expanded its crisis standards of care on Thursday to include all of the state’s hospitals and health systems, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare said in a press statement. The standards were initially activated in North Idaho on Sept. 6 after resources became limited to the point of affecting medical care. Then, after Boise-based St. Luke’s Health System requested activation on Sept. 15, an advisory committee recommended the statewide expansion. The health department said the expansion was activated “because the massive increase of COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization in all areas of the state has exhausted existing resources.” The standards are guidelines to help providers decide how to deliver the best care possible under the current circumstances — including prioritizing who receives care with the limited resources available. Hospitals can implement the standards as needed and according to their own policies.

The Department of Health and Human Services released a “bold proposal” to lower prescription drug costs. The proposed plan includes legislative action, such as allowing HHS to negotiate lower prices for Medicare Part B and Part D drugs (and making those lower prices available to commercial payers), and prohibiting pay-for-delay arrangements between drugmakers. It also includes steps such as testing value-based payment models for Medicare Part B drugs, effectively tying payments to the clinical value drugs provide, and testing total cost of care models in Medicare. It also would encourage industry competition by strengthening supply chains, promoting biosimilars and generics, and increasing transparency.

Henry Ford Health System and Michigan State University unveiled a “new brand” for the 30-year partnership they launched in January: Henry Ford Health + Michigan State University Health Sciences. The purpose of the partnership is to advance “a new standard of health care” across the state of Michigan and the nation, according to a press release announcing the brand. The partnership said it has “already created critical infrastructure and new pathways for pioneering research, cancer care, education, and equitable care delivery and outcomes” in the months since the launch.

Banner Health has named Amy Perry as the organization’s new president and chief operating officer. The Phoenix-based health system said in a news release that Perry will take on the roles starting Nov. 1., and that Becky Kuhn, Banner Health’s current COO, will retire on Nov. 3. Perry currently serves as the executive vice president of integrated care delivery and CEO of the hospital division at Morristown, N.J.-based Atlantic Health System.

What we’re reading
Setting the Stage for the Next 10 Years of Health Care Payment Innovation. JAMA Viewpoint, 9.16.20 

What else we’re reading
Who’s in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain, by Michael Gazzaniga.

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