Whenever I head to the mall, I like to stop by the Apple and Windows Store to see to their newly stocked items. Often, its not so much the hardware itself, but rather the inventory hanging off the walls and shelves. What always catches my attention is the steady growth of health oriented devices that have found a niche in these stores.
The number of personal fitness trackers has exploded recently as have connected health devices. It makes sense that the places where people go to get their smartphones and tablets would also stock these peripherals.
When it comes to getting appropriate devices in the hands of patients who could benefit from them, there is another potentially bigger opportunity though – community pharmacies. Patients already go to get their prescribed medications at these locales and most sell a plethora of stand-alone medical devices like blood pressure cuffs and glucometers.
Given the patients that we want to target – folks picking up their metformin or statin or HCTZ – are (hopefully) going to their local pharmacy, it seems natural that they too could be a nexus for implementing mobile health technology.
Looking into this further, the only large scale community pharmacy that carries any such device lineup is currently Walgreens. Available online and via some of their pharmacies, they have products from Fitbits to Withings. These devices include the popular fitness trackers, blood pressure cuffs, scales, and SMBG monitors.
However, this is no small surprise, given Walgreens’ initiative to become a health center not just focused on dispensing medications. Increasing the role of pharmacists in medication therapy management has been a hot topic and it may seem the gravitation towards tech may also be a key way for Walgreens to keep abreast of its competition.
An interesting project Walgreens has begun is its Steps With Rewards Program which, as the name implies, rewards members for their steps recorded through personal fitness trackers.
Personally, I think it will be the next step for pharmacies to become a beacon of mHealth technologies, especially if insurance companies start coverage for such items. Most community pharmacies have a process of billing, and it would be easy for them to help mediate the purchase of such items. They already do so for multiple items covered under Medicare Part B (e.g. diabetic testing supplies). However, if such a step is taken, pharmacists will need to be further trained in such technologies and mHealth practice overall.