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Rite Aid ups ante in health care arena

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CAMP HILL, Pa. — A flurry of moves this month by Rite Aid Corp. further its growth as a retail health care company.

First, Rite Aid unveiled plans to pilot walk-in HealthSpot telehealth stations in the greater Akron/Canton, Cleveland and Dayton/Springfield markets in Ohio. Robert Thompson, executive vice president of pharmacy, said the drug chain is targeting early spring for the first stations to roll out to stores.

In the HealthSpot telehealth stations, patients interact with a physician via a videoconference screen, a touch screen and biometric devices.

Just days later, Rite Aid launched Vaccine Central, a new online platform encouraging consumers to take action on vaccine-preventable diseases. The site’s health resources include an immunization assessment tool to help people gauge their vaccination needs.

And the next day, Rite Aid said southeastern Michigan accountable care organization Physician Direct ACO has joined the Rite Aid Health Alliance, which unites doctors, pharmacists and specially trained coaches in a care team to support patients with chronic and polychronic conditions.

According to Thompson, the agreement with HealthSpot brings Rite Aid a robust telehealth platform. “For quite some time now, we have believed that telemedicine will become more common,” he said. “One of the reasons we’re so excited about HealthSpot’s solution is that they have integrated high-tech, digital diagnostic equipment.”

Patients sit at a desk inside the station and interact with the physician via a high-definition videoconference screen and a touch screen. Biometric devices — including a thermometer, stethoscope, otoscope, pulse oximeter and blood pressure cuff — stream medical data in real time. Outside the station is an attendant desk with a laptop and printer, as well as a kiosk with digital sign­age, a check-in touchscreen and a card reader.

Customers can be treated for minor and common ailments, including cold and flu; rashes and skin conditions; eye conditions; earaches; and seasonal allergies. A record of the visit is kept, and a prescription can be created and forwarded to the pharmacy.

“This is a very sophisticated telehealth solution with a broad range of tools that facilitate a more comprehensive diagnosis than with just a visual-only interaction with a physician,” Thompson said.

For the pilot, Rite Aid customers using the stations will be able to access a network of board-certified medical professionals such as Cleveland Clinic and other major health systems across Ohio via the HealthSpot Network.

Meanwhile, Vaccine Central (RiteAid.com/vaccinecentral) enables visitors to fill out an immunization evaluation, track their personal immunization history, and find other educational resources on vaccinations. Rite Aid pharmacists, all certified immunizers, are available to consult with customers.

“As we’ve worked over the last few years to expand our immunization program, we’ve found that a lot of people have a lot of questions about immunizations and don’t know how to get those answers,” Thompson said. “So we came up with an online tool kit that would help people understand vaccination requirements, debunk some of the myths associated with immunizations and encourage more people to get immunized.”

An Ipsos survey of 1,000 women ages 26 to 74, conducted for Rite Aid and National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, revealed that many U.S. women don’t think they’re up to date on immunizations for many preventable diseases. Of women polled, 79% said they would find an immunization evaluation from a pharmacy helpful.

“We’re trying to expand the role of the pharmacist at Rite Aid. And we believe that our pharmacists play a critical role in helping people live healthier lives,” Thompson said.

To that end, doctors from Physician Direct ACO will work with pharmacists and care coaches from Rite Aid subsidiary Health Dialog in the chain’s pharmacies to improve the overall health and self-management abilities of patients with congestive heart failure, diabetes, COPD, high cholesterol and other ­conditions.

Physician Direct ACO marks the sixth medical partner in the Rite Aid Health Alliance since the program’s launch in March. Others include the Heritage Provider Network, Marina Del Rey, Calif.; Penn State Hershey Health System, Hershey, Pa.; Cornerstone Health Care, High Point, N.C.; Apollo Medical Holdings Inc., Glendale, Calif.; and the Greater Buffalo United Accountable Healthcare Network of Buffalo, N.Y.


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