Walgreens, Microsoft Knit Strategic Partnership to Deliver New Care Models

January 15, 2019
David Frabotta
David Frabotta

Walgreens locations, Duane Reade stores, and Walgreens Boots Alliance distribution centers will move workflows to Microsoft’s Azure cloud and AI tool.

Walgreens pharmacists could be part of a healthcare delivery revolution as the chain rethinks its stores and services for its patients. As new delivery models emerge to make healthcare more personalized, accessible, and affordable, Walgreens is banking on Microsoft’s cloud-based computing and artificial intelligence (AI) to help it evolve and remain competitive, particularly with newcomer Amazon

Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA)-Walgreens’ parent company that includes Duane Reade stores, Boots and other international retailers, and 400 distribution centers that include Alliance Healthcare-and Microsoft Corp. announced a strategic partnership intended to develop new healthcare models, technology, and retail operations to improve the future of healthcare.

The alliance combines Microsoft Azure, it’s cloud and AI platform, with Walgreens’ customer reach, retail locations, outpatient healthcare services, and industry expertise to provide an integrated care-management model that incorporates digital innovations such as access to virtual care with its more than 9,500 physical locations. WBA replaced General Electric last year as one of the 30 companies that constitute the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

The seven-year deal includes research and development investment to build healthcare solutions, improve health outcomes, and lower the cost of care. This investment will include funding, subject-matter experts, technology, and tools, according to Walgreens. The companies will also explore the potential to establish joint innovation centers in key markets. Additionally, in 2019 WBA will pilot up to 12 store-in-store “digital health corners” aimed at the merchandising and sale of select health care-related hardware and devices.

“Our strategic partnership with Microsoft demonstrates our strong commitment to creating integrated, next-generation, digitally enabled health care delivery solutions for our customers, transforming our stores into modern neighborhood health destinations and expanding customer offerings,” Stefano Pessina, executive vice chairman and CEO of WBA said in a statement. “WBA will work with Microsoft to harness the information that exists between payors and health care providers to leverage, in the interest of patients and with their consent, our extraordinary network of accessible and convenient locations to deliver new innovations, greater value and better health outcomes in health care systems across the world.”

The partnership will also focus on enabling more personalized health care experiences from preventative self-care to chronic disease management. WBA will pursue lifestyle management solutions in areas such as nutrition and wellness via customers’ delivery method of choice, including digital devices and digital applications or in-store expert advice. Additionally, the companies will work to build a seamless ecosystem of participating organizations to better connect consumers, providers-including Walgreens and Boots pharmacists-pharmaceutical manufacturers and payors.

A recent survey of 500 healthcare executives revealed that 94% of respondents see investments in technologies, such as AI, as the clearest route to affordable, accessible, and equitable healthcare in the future.

But in order to realize those future possibilities, a culture shift needs to happen in healthcare today, says Tom Lawry, director of worldwide health for Microsoft. The future of healthcare technology relies more on the culture and framework being created by clinical and business leaders today, Lowry tells Drug Topics.

“What really is going to be needed in the future is not just the breakthroughs in technology, but breakthroughs in creative thinking and the ability of leaders to think differently when redeveloping their processes to leverage the power of the technologies rather than trying to insert these new technologies into a framework,” Lawry says.

Editor’s note: Subscribe to Drug Topics to read more about how Microsoft, AI, and other technologies are shaping the future of pharmacy in our February issue.