For Brewer, WBA’s next phase is personal

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In laying out her vision for the future of Walgreens Boots Alliance at the company’s investor day last month, chief executive officer Roz Brewer framed the strategy in personal terms. Recalling her mother’s final illness a decade ago, Brewer talked about the daunting complexity and wastefulness of health care in America, and how WBA is deploying its assets and expertise to address those problems.

Roz Brewer

Roz Brewer

Like many elderly people, at the end of her life Brewer’s mother was confronted with multiple health concerns, among them cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension and kidney failure. On the plus side, she had good insurance coverage and a family, including a pharmacist and a physician, well equipped to provide support.

“But even in our situation, we found the experience of caring for our mom to be incredibly confusing and unwieldy and burdensome,” Brewer said. “We had to navigate across several health systems and different doctors’ offices, including a nephrologist, endocrinologist and a cardiologist. And my brother had to take time off work every other day for several hours to take her to her dialysis.

“Even worse, the bills from all these visits kept coming in, sometimes several months after the original appointments. And it was very hard to keep track of what checks needed to be signed and when. This was a time when our family should have been able to focus mainly on just enjoying our remaining moments. … And many families and patients find themselves in far worse situations than this.”

WBA has set out to alleviate the situation. By bringing together initiatives already under way at the time she became CEO last March and accelerating their development, Brewer pledged to use the company’s scale and resources to deliver customer-centric, hyper-localized health care and retailing experiences, creating an ecosystem that also embraces other health care providers and payers, as well as other partners at the front end of the store.

The heart of the effort is Walgreens Health, a new business unit that will develop a technology-based care model that delivers health services to individuals in whatever way is best for them — at home, in-store, at a physician’s office or via the Walgreens app. Brewer said Walgreens Health will enhance the customer experience, improve outcomes and reduce overall costs. The last area is particularly ripe for disruption. A recent report from McKinsey & Co. concluded that the U.S. health care system could save a quarter-trillion dollars per year through administrative simplification and, in the process, eliminate many of the frustrations that Brewer and her family encountered while caring for her mother.

“We have established a tech-enabled care model, powered by a health care platform that is omnichannel and personalized for the consumers we serve,” she told investors. “This platform will create a pragmatic and innovative experience for consumers across their journey and then knit together the products and services from Walgreens Health and our partners.

“For example, imagine the day when we could offer services across the care continuum, including finding the right doctor, scheduling appointments, managing chronic conditions, obtaining insurance records, viewing health records, accessing wellness services, setting up health devices, providing nutritional and preventative information, and much more. Ultimately, our goal is to move towards value-based care and directly impacting costs and outcomes.”

In addition to Walgreens Health, WBA is taking other aggressive steps to construct and support the new ecosystem. The company has invested $5.2 billion to increase its stake in VillageMD — a provider of physician-administered, value-based primary care in a variety of settings, including Walgreens drug stores — from 30% to 63%. The move will speed up the opening of Village Medical at Walgreens locations in 30 markets, bringing the total to at least 600 by 2025 and 1,000 by 2027.

WBA is spending another $330 million for a 55% stake in CareCentrix, which provides care coordination and outsourced benefit management services in the post-acute and home care sector. Brewer said the latter deal will make WBA a major player in the $75 billion a year post-acute care market, while the VillageMD investment expands its presence in the $1 trillion market for value-based primary care.

After seven months getting to know the company, evaluating its strengths and weaknesses, and assessing gaps in the marketplace, Brewer has crafted a plan that puts WBA on course to augment its already considerable contribution to the well-being of patients and customers. Now begins the hard work of making that compelling vision a reality.


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