Health 2.0: Exclusive Interview with Gregory Orr, Senior Director of Digital Health at Walgreens

Walgreens is back! Gregory Orr, Senior Director of Digital Health at Walgreens gives an overview of how Walgreens has been implementing digital health into their health program in-store and online through partnerships. Emily Hagerman, Senior Producer of Health 2.0, had the chance to speak with Gregory Orr and find out what Walgreens has been up to since attending the last Fall conference!

Emily Hagerman: I’m here with Gregory Orr, Senior Director of Digital Health at Walgreens, who will be joining us at Health 2.0 this Fall for our session, the New Consumer Health Ecosystem.  

Last year, Adam Pellegrini represented Walgreens at our fall conference on our sessions featuring tech wearables and demoed the Balance Rewards for healthy choices Program, which gives rewards to customers for adopting healthy habits.

Can you give me an update on how that program is going and what the team at Walgreens has been working on since the Fall?

Gregory Orr: Absolutely. It’s been very exciting around our Balance Rewards for healthy choices program. Since that time, we’ve had over 800,000 users start tracking different areas of their health, including physical activities, weight, blood pressure, and glucose.  Coupled with the growth of the population, what’s really exploded is the number of connected devices. We have over 400,000 devices that have been connected from those members. What we’re seeing is a healthy sustained engagement in the program because it’s so easy to connect a device and then continue to participate.

Over 73 million miles have been logged and over 2 billion points have been awarded. That’s an equivalent value of $2 million that have gone specifically to members of the program who are tracking healthy activities.

Our chief medical officer, Dr. Harry Leider and his team were amazed by the engagement of the program and wanted to start looking at the actual outcomes.  We worked together and released a white paper recently that you can view at www.walgreens.com/balancerewardsoutcomes.  We were looking at the outcomes for those participants, and not surprisingly, we found that folks that walked at least a mile a day lost weight. You’ll see in the report that those people lost an average of 3.7 lbs. But I think what was more exciting for us is that we saw a significant adherence improvement. In this study, we tracked diabetes medication adherence for those that logged more than a mile a day. It was about 7.9 percentage points higher than those that logged less than a mile per day. Additionally, we looked at adherence rates for those who tracked their blood glucose and found a 5.4% improvement over those that did not track their glucose.

Not only are people enjoying the program and getting something out of it for their own lives, we’re seeing an actual moving of the needle in the area of health outcomes. That was very, very exciting for us.

Right after the conference in September, we announced a very close partnership with WebMD. For both WebMD and Walgreens, it’s a multi-faceted agreement and a unique type of arrangement.

At the core of that partnership was us leveraging their Digital Health Assistant, which is a digital coaching tool that they utilize for their clients. Now the interesting part is that it’s not available to the general public anywhere else. Typically, they sell that product along with a suite of services to large employers, health plans and other entities.

We have now implemented it directly into www.walgreens.com, so it’s available in both the Walgreens website and the mobile app. Anyone can now come in and it’s sort of an add-on to the Balance Rewards for healthy choices program.  You can just do your tracking on Balance Rewards for healthy choices, or take that extra step and make actual behavior changes, for instance lose weight, improve nutrition, or quit smoking.

Now everyone has access to this evidence-based product. When I say evidence-based, what I mean is that it follows standard guidelines. Just tracking your smoking or NRT usage alone hasn’t been shown to make a big dent for folks that are trying to quit tobacco. It must be very regimented. It’s about setting up a cessation plan and identifying your triggers and ways around your cravings. This program walks that person through the proven effective steps necessary to really improve their outcome.

We implemented this program in January and we continue to make it a more integrated experience. And we’ve seen a tremendous uptake of folks signing up — it has already surpassed our projections. The great part is in addition to setting your goals and doing things digitally, you also have 24/7 access to coaches that can guide you through that program.  We have a team of specially trained Walgreens pharmacists that have been trained on the different modules that are offered — everything from nutrition, weight loss, tobacco cessation, and we recently added diabetes and asthma. Users can go log in, track themselves digitally, and talk to an actual trained coach on their health journey – specifically their health improvement journey.

EH:It seems like you guys are doing a lot through engaging your consumers both online and in-store. Can you tell me more about the ways that Walgreens is integrating the online presence and in-store experiences? Anything else we should know about?

GO: The term that we like to use is Omni-Channel Digital Health, and it’s akin to when I mentioned the WebMD platform where it’s digital, but you can also talk to a human. That’s the same path we take in our digital assets to Walgreens, for instance, the Refill by Scan technology that was released several years ago. You use your phone to scan the barcode of a prescription label, complete a refill request in seconds and then simply pick up the prescription at the store. What can we do for folks that are in the store to help assist them? We’ve released a status tracker – which shows you exactly where your medication is within the process from first receiving the prescription, through payment processing and finally telling you “Hey, it’s ready for you at the store.” This is another example of being able to use a digital asset in order to simplify the process of bringing a prescription in and waiting for your medication.

In addition to the WebMD-powered Your Digital Health Assistant Program, we are integrating WebMD content both digitally and in stores. From a digital perspective, we already have a new set of health centers that are primarily WebMD content. We feature WebMD content throughout the digital side, but more importantly if you walk into our stores today, you’ll see actual WebMD content that’s truly assisting the customer to better understand their health.

Now, when you walk into our store, you’ll see WebMD content at various areas along the aisle that better educate you on something like: Do you need an omega-3 type supplement? Why you would need it? Who should take it? Who should not take it? The same kind of content, is available online as well. We find a lot of our folks who are logging into our apps or logging into the website, use it as a pre-shopping experience and are trying to educate themselves so that when they get to the store, they know what solution is right for them.

WebMD has been a great partner for us to better educate our customers. It’s where many people go to get answers about various health topics and so it’s a very positive partnership where WebMD brings the information and the pre-education to our customer, while  we provide the actual product or service to help them. It’s been a really great Omni-Channel, in-store, and online experience for our customers.

EH: All right, so one last question about partnerships. I know thatearlier this year, Walgreens announced the integration of PatientsLikeMe data on medication side-effects into the Walgreens online dashboard.

PatientsLikeMe is a good friend of Health 2.0 so we’d love to know how that’s going and any insights that you guys have received out of that partnership as well.

GO: Yeah, absolutely. Again, we look for areas of friction. One thing that patients picking up prescriptions always need is a good understanding of what side effects are common in their medications.

When you go to the pharmacy and pick up your prescription, it includes a piece paper with a full drug monograph and it lists out all possible side effects. However, this list can be extensive. What we wanted to provide, to help complement our pharmacists’ role in addressing medication questions, is a quick answer to the most common side effects found by patients.

So PatientsLikeMe was a cool unique opportunity for us to say, “This isn’t meant to discount any information that you get in the store through our drug monograph. It’s meant to enhance it.” It gives a better picture to our customers who go online to quickly know the common side effects of their medication regimen.  For instance if you take a drug like simvastatin, you can look it up and say, “What are the common side effects of simvastatin?”  A pharmacist or clinician would probably tell you that muscle aches are a very common side effect.  Well, our customer may not know that offhand. It is listed in that drug monograph but they may not notice it because of the long list of side effects.

PatientsLikeMe gave us this valuable information from over 300,000 different patients that are reporting on these medications through the site. For the customer, it’s so simple. There’s all this powerful data in the background, but for the customer, it’s a very simple graph that just says, muscle aches are reported by 7% of patients. And here are a few other less frequently reported side effects.  And they can view all this without leaving their Walgreens dashboard. They’re in a single, unified dashboard experience.

They can also click one button and see what the severity of those side effects are. So if it’s muscle cramps, are they debilitating cramps or something mild? You can quickly get that information on the dashboard view as well. And if somebody wants to go deeper into that medication or into other areas of PatientsLikeMe, they can link out and even start contributing their own information into the PatientsLikeMe community.

We know what it is like being a patient – we all want quick poignant answers to our questions. This partnership really allowed us to leverage a great source of data to give our customers quick answers about the side effects of their medications.

EH: Thank you for sharing more about the different programs and partnerships you guys have going on at Walgreens. We always love learning more and we look forward to hearing even more this coming October when you join us in Santa Clara.

Hear more from Walgreen’s Senior Director of Digital Health, Gregory Orr at the 9th Annual Health 2.0 Fall Conference. He will be a speaker on “The New Consumer Health Ecosystem”. Purchase your tickets here!

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