Drugstore operator Walgreen aims to redefine the term office visit by allowing you to visit the doctor at your office or workplace. After blanketing the nation with more than 6,900 drugstores, retail growth opportunities are slowing and the company is looking for new ways to expand. One area that Walgreen is giving plenty of attention is its Take Care Health Systems (TCHS) business, which manages more than 700 clinics inside Walgreen stores and at worksites. (Customers include QUALCOMM, Goodyear Tire & Rubber and Toyota Motor.) The company recently told Chicago’s Daily Herald that it plans to open “several thousand” work-site health clinics in the coming years to get in on the $7.3 billion market for employer-provided care.
With businesses struggling to reduce employee health care costs and the country on the verge of major health care reform, one could argue this is an idea whose time has come. The work-site clinics provide primary-care physicians (which I understand are in short supply already), nurse practitioners, nutritionists, and other health-related services. Walgreen bought TCHS in 2007 and made two follow-on acquisitions – I-trax and Whole Health Management – in 2008 in a bid to diminish its reliance on retail stores for growth and to diversify into health and wellness services. In January Walgreen launched “Complete Care and Well-Being,” a workplace program designed to cut costs for employers and improve access to health care for employees. The work-site health centers may be staffed by from one to 50 employees (depending on the size of the client) and be paired with Walgreen pharmacies and discount prescription drug plans.
This all sounds good, but I can’t help but think about the school nurse. Not to bash all school nurses, but the ones I encountered during my school days, and more recently during my children’s education, hardly inspired confidence. (My fifth grader swears her school nurse treats everything with a cough drop.) On the other hand, my employer Hoover’s already provides flu shots, blood pressure screening, and other health-related services at well-attended company-sponsored health fairs. It would be convenient to be able to get a throat culture or other simple procedure at work. But beyond routine services, there are privacy issues to consider and I’m not sure all employees would flock to a company doc.
On a related health care note: The world’s largest employer, Wal-Mart Stores, has come out in favor of requiring employers to provide health insurance to workers, much to the dismay of other retailers, large companies, and most Republicans. In a letter to President Obama dated June 30, Wal-Mart called for “shared responsibility” in the form of an “employer mandate which is fair and broad in coverage.” Wal-Mart, which for years was chastised as stingy when it came to employee benefits, has improved its benefits programs considerably. Still, the National Retail Federation, which vehemently opposes mandates for employers, said it was “flabbergasted” by Wal-Mart’s position.