Event recap: E-Health: The Role of “E” in Healthcare

by Loida Rosario @LRosari 

Walgreens is 112 years old, and it is acting like a geek teenager. 

The HBA Chicago chapter event on March 19 in Chicago, Sonia Chawla, president of E-Commerce, wooed 170+ in the audience with the clear and smart way that Walgreens is putting the “E” in healthcare.  According to the US Commerce Department, online sales increased 16.1% in 2011 to $194.3 billion while total retail sales grew only 7.9% (An Executive Guide to Retail Transformation). The healthcare industry is vastly benefitting from this trend as we all strive to be healthy and efficient. Walgreens is emerging as a leader in e-health. 

First, let’s review Walgreens overall new strategy.  It consists of three elements:

Delivering the “well” experience – Walgreens wants to be the consumer/patient partner in managing our healthcare needs within the way we live our lives in our communities.

Transforming the community pharmacy – Prescription fulfillment is at the core of Walgreens’ business, yet it has evolved as a platform to allow consumers -- specifically referred to as mainly women -- as the place where she can get whatever she wants, whenever she wants, wherever she wants.

Creating an unprecedented global platform – In the first global foray outside the US, Walgreens is going big by buying 45% of the European based Alliance Boots, health and beauty empire. The full implementation of this strategy would allow Walgreens to double in size in the next decade, from $72 billion in revenue today to $130 billion in just a few years. 

How is Walgreens putting the “E” in healthcare? 

  • Recognizing significant trends
  • Executing deliberately to address those trends from technological and marketing perspectives
  • Measuring smartly

Three significant trends discussed include:  1) the consumerization of healthcare with patients acting as empowered consumers; 2)  the digitization of the industry; for example, spurred by the Affordable Care Act, there are thousands new apps in this area, and 3) pioneer mobile fulfillment since today of all Walgreens online prescriptions, 50% come through mobile devices, according to Chawla.

Walgreens technology and marketing strategies seemed tightly coupled. Its process to view, transact and engage patients as consumers is built on an omni-channel framework.  Consumers can view Walgreens offerings through traditional media, e.g. newspapers inserts and coupons, through an extensive online and e-commerce enabled site and via a variety of mobile devices. For example, a 2012 award-winning social media campaign allowed consumers to donate $6M in flu shots for those in needs. And the new Balanced Rewards loyalty program is accessible and traceable online.

With all the excitement surrounding ‘big data’, Walgreens strategic approach to ROI measurement seems straightforward. It uses traditional digital and social media statistics, as well as time-honored measures such as life-time consumer value. However, at the end of the day the salient approach is brilliant in its simplicity. It compares the value of a consumer that only buys at the store, against that that buys both at the store and online and to one that buys at the store, online and via mobile. The results are compelling:  taking as the base the consumer who only buys at the store, those who buy online are about 3.5 times more valuable, and those who also buy via mobile are up to 6 times more valuable. That’s a clear ROI measure every day, any day. This integration of marketing and technology offers additional costs savings and merchandising optimization opportunities by further leveraging real-time data.

Listening to Sonia reminded me of the Latino cultural tendency to use the local pharmacist as a family friend and pseudo-doctor. Walgreens now have extensive social media assets, local presence (including clinics) , and real-time availability through mobile devices  as benefits that people have always sought-out from their trusted local pharmacists.  Walgreens is just using E-health to ensure that customers-patients enjoy the same Walgreens experience at regardless of time, place and medium.




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