When we visit the doctor and receive unexpected or bad news, some of us may suddenly find ourselves in a Peanuts cartoon. No matter how carefully the physician explains a diagnosis, or how to care for a chronic condition, it can sound like what Charlie Brown hears whenever his teacher talks: Wah wah wah wah. As we try and wrap our heads around a new prescription or disease management device, we’re also dealing with the emotional upheaval of unwelcome news about our health.

Imagine having the ability to walk into your local Walgreens and – without making an appointment or dealing with another co-pay – talk to a trusted expert who can help decipher your next steps. Someone who can physically show you how to use a new health device, talk to you about potential solutions to help manage your condition, and help alleviate concerns over new medications and side effects.

For patients near a handful of Walgreens locations in Knoxville and Memphis, Tenn., this is becoming a reality. This January, Walgreens began piloting a new model called Health Corners, with the goal of becoming the trusted neighborhood source to educate, assist and support a consumer’s care journey and introduce solutions that may help them to live life better.

We sat down with Jared Josleyn, vice president of innovation for Walgreens Boots Alliance, and Andrea Farris, Walgreens vice president of development for solution planning and partnerships, to understand this new endeavor and how it can help patients live healthier, happier lives.

Walgreens News: What exactly can a customer expect from a Walgreens Health Corner?

Jared Josleyn: Knowledge empowers people to more effectively manage their health. Every customer’s health care journey is unique, so the assistance they seek needs to be personalized to be more effective.

With our Health Corners, Walgreens aims to provide a safe, comfortable place for people to ask questions they might hesitate to ask in more formal care settings, in the hope that they can make health-related decisions with more confidence, and better care for their own and their family's health. Here, customers can meet with a Health Advisor – a qualified pharmacist who not only can answer questions about medications but also sit down in a more private format to help patients and their caregivers understand and manage ongoing health concerns, introduce them to the latest in digital health solutions, assist them in making healthy lifestyle choices and more. The service is entirely free, provided by Walgreens to help care for our customers.

WN: What went into choosing where this pilot would happen? In other words – why Knoxville and Memphis?

Andrea Farris: When considering potential locations for this pilot, we looked for stores that have a diverse demographic and income mix. We wanted high-traffic volume to maximize reach, as well as a high prevalence of chronic conditions where we can provide the most assistance to the community. In Knoxville, we also have a strategic partnership with Kroger to offer groceries in our stores, which allows us to provide customers with advice on nutrition and eating habits to improve their health.

Choosing the location for the pilot was especially important because our long-term goal for Health Corners is to provide a local, personalized experience for our customers.

JJ: We refer to this as a “hyper-local model” because we are tailoring our mix of solutions and services at each store to fit with the interests and needs of the people in the local neighborhood. 

AF: One of the ways we’re doing this is through our strategic partnership with Microsoft. Health Advisors can log the topic of each customer interaction into our system, and analysis of the trends at each store are then used to make changes to the information, products and services provided at each store. While some of the changes may be modest, such as providing printed materials in specific languages, or finding appropriate local referrals, we believe responsiveness to the needs of the community at each store will have a significant impact on the engagement and trust of our customers.

JJ: Our job is to support our local communities and consumers as best we can. So we are focusing on meeting people where they are and helping them in their health journey. We want to support the little things as much as the big things to improve our customers’ lives and the lives of their loved ones.

WN: What are you hoping to learn from these pilots, and how could this translate into a benefit to our customers and their loved ones?

AF: We’ve heard from our customers that they don’t always know what health care services are available to them, what their best options are or how to access them. Through direct support and interactions with our consumers, we hope to learn, as a first step, what solutions and services they need to support their care journey so we can better support them. 

JJ: Long term, our intention is to create a new, consumer-centric, tech-enabled health care ecosystem that empowers consumers to engage when, where and how they want through the creation of neighborhood health destinations. The Walgreens Health Corner is the physical manifestation of this ecosystem. Through the Health Corner, we aim to deliver new services and solutions based on the needs of the local population, so that we can enable their care journey, hopefully providing valuable support and becoming a trusted friend along the way. We want to continue to be a trusted resource for our customers and a reliable partner for the health care providers, insurers, health care suppliers and other participants in the health care ecosystem.

WN: The Health Corners just launched in January, but what has the reception been so far?
AF: Since the day we opened the first few stores, we have received an overwhelming positive response from our customers. Within a little over two weeks, our Health Advisors have served more than 5,700 customers in just 12 locations. Customers have indicated to us that they feel more personally attended to, and that we are going above and beyond in our service. Our Advisors love being able to spend time in the Health Corners with customers and hopefully establish a long-term relationship with them, while also being out on the floor helping patients that may or may have not asked for help.

We’ve heard quite a few stories that illustrate why the Health Corners can be so effective. Just the other day, a customer went up to one of our Health Corners. She had just found out her daughter was diabetic, and had been told by a primary care physician that they need to actively monitor her blood glucose levels. Mom was obviously very concerned, and felt uncomfortable handling the recommended device that would allow for this monitoring; she didn’t know if the sensor needed to be in a specific spot, or how everything worked. Our Health Advisor answered all of her questions, physically showed her the best places for the sensor, informed her of the proper disposal for used sensors and talked through what to do if one of the sensors was faulty. It’s that combination of face-to-face support, convenience and expertise that makes this model so powerful.