Can Walgreens Drive Digital Health Adoption?

Recently, the fitness-tracking company Misfit Wearables announced a partnership with Walgreens’ Balance Rewards Points program. Another household name, WebMD, also recently partnered with Walgreens. These three companies combined–fitness tracking, retail, and online health content—have the potential to offer a great collaboration in digital health services.

What does this mean? The Walgreens-WebMD partnership will offer unique ways to help people make healthy choices. For instance, Walgreens will offer points on their Balance Rewards program for customers who log activity like jogging on the WebMD “Healthy Target” app. Essentially, healthy activity now has a financial incentive. By exercising, you can save money.

So what’s to keep you from logging 4000 steps in “Healthy Target” when you’ve had a lazy Saturday? Walgreens is actually building in motion-tracking integration with its Balance Rewards program so that your data will be logged automatically. Misfit joins Fitbit and Jawbone in a growing list of wearables involved in this effort. We’re excited to see how the program develops.

Anything that encourages us to take responsibility for our health is a very positive thing. On the other hand, some may feel that good health should be enough of a reward in and of itself. But in any case, the move is very much in line with Walgreens’ health-conscious branding efforts (“at the corner of happy and healthy”).

The store will even integrate WebMD health content into its online and in-person services. That means that when you’re trying to decide what cold medicine will best fit your symptoms, you might be presented with some helpful information on whether you have the cold or flu, and what you can do to feel better. This kind of health content integration may give Walgreens an edge over other pharmacies to consumers searching for information.

Digital health collaborations between companies are still new, and that makes these large-scale, consumer-facing partnerships especially exciting. Walgreens’ move will probably predict similar initiatives in other retail chains, as digital health becomes more and more central in our lives. One day we may even see them integrate with social media platforms like Facebook, which recently released plans to organize support groups and possibly health apps based on users’ data.

It seems that what we’re seeing so far is only a glimpse into the “brave new world” of digital health soon to come. While only 6% of consumers currently track some aspect of their health digitally, the incentives of saving money and accessing the expertise of care providers and pharmacists more readily are likely to drive a more widespread adoption of digital health.