The Genius Bar of health care

When your MacBook is experiencing complications and seems a little out of wack, you schedule an appointment, visit an Apple store and consult a technology expert. The Genius Bar routine seems to be inspired by the way we arrange doctor’s appointments. Now an area of health care has new plans to borrow that idea back.

The Walgreens drugstore chain is working with IDEO, the design and innovation consulting firm, to create Walgreens 2.0, a pharmacy that serves as a clinic as well as a consultation spot for your health IT needs. Colin Watts, Walgreens Chief Innovation Officer, discussed some of the company’s plans on a panel at the HealthWeb Leadership Forum in New York City Thursday. “We put such incredible pressure on a 13 minute conversation to solve a huge amount of issues once every six months,” Watts said, referring to the average length of doctor’s visits today. “Increasingly, a lot of our focus is what we can do in between those visits to help to support the quality of that care.” Prototyping for the future drugstore started more than a year ago and is based on the Apple Genius Bar. Like resident Geniuses in the Apple store, Walgreen’s store pharmacists will be tech-trained.

The goal is for patients to utilize Walgreens’ expertise after they’ve received a new diagnosis or experienced a traumatic health event. In order for Walgreens to be a successful extended care provider, Watts says connectivity between the pharmacy and the physician needs to improve, and in-store experts need access to the same electronic medical record that the patient’s physician sees. Provided this can happen in a HIPAA compliant way, this could prove to be a great service for patients. Pharmacists will better understand physician’s initial requests after appointments and will also be able to provide advice about follow-up care as needed with a more complete understanding of a patient’s medical profile. The same kind of consultation is available to people who have health concerns they feel aren’t severe enough to warrant a visit to the doctor. “We found that people were coming to our pharmacists every day and asking questions,” Watts said. Pharmacists can go on making recommendations the way they do now, but with the context provided by an EMR.

Future plans also include a way to help patients to access their records from the store themselves. Part of Meaningful Use guidelines require EMRs to be able to provide downloadable information for patients. Some Walgreens locations in Chicago already allow patients to use iPads to access their information via Blue Button, a service that allows veterans to download their personal health information from their account. Watts said that moving forward, he’d like all patients to have that capability, and Walgreens employees can help them navigate the technology.

Another way to think of the proposed Walgreens 2.0 is as an information kiosk you seek out when you’re in a new place for the first time. Tech might soon transform the health care into an unfamiliar setting for many patients, and the more help desks we can set up along the way, the better.

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