Pharmacies Turning to Ride Sharing Services to Bring Patients In
Timothy Dy Aungst, PharmD, is an associate professor of pharmacy practice at MCPHS University. He graduated from Wilkes University Nesbitt School of Pharmacy and completed a PGY-1 Pharmacy Practice Residency at St. Luke's University Hospital, and then a Clinical Geriatric Fellowship at MCPHS University. He is passionate about the rise of technology in health care and its application to pharmacy. He has published primarily on the role of mobile technology and mHealth, and made multiple national and international presentations on those topics. He blogs at TheDigitalApothecary.com, is a Co-Host of FurtureDose.tech a podcast part of the Pharmacy Podcast Network, and you can find him on Twitter @TDAungst.
Recent news has highlighted the use of ride-sharing companies looking to get into the health space, and now CVS and Walgreens are jumping on board. But is it really just to help them get their medications or is it something more?
Who knew that ride sharing platforms would move beyond just being a service to order in the city on a night out. If you had told me 5 years ago that Uber, and Lyft would get into the health field as a full-on service supported by insurance companies, hospitals, and pharmacy companies, I wouldn't believe it. But, here we are.
So what's new in the ride sharing world since I last wrote about Uber and Lyft looking to get patients to their medical appointments? Well, how about getting patients to their pharmacies?
Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) is creating a new company division called the 'Blue Cross Blue Shield Insitute' that, as part of their service, will provide free rides for patients using Lyft.1 Now, these rides only include those to either Walgreens or CVS pharmacies, at the current time, and will just be available in several locations. Likely, these will be urban areas, and the free rides are unlikely to spread to rural sites for some time.
This isn't necessarily a new idea from BCBS, as they have partnered with Lyft in the past to provide free rides for their members to doctors offices, and other health appointments. In May of 2017, BCBS announced that they wanted to help patients with transportation in so-called 'Transportation Deserts' as they recognized that some local communities struggle with providing such services.2 As Dr. Trent Haywood, CMO of BCBS said in a statement, “Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies have always been committed to local communities—and to solve the most pressing healthcare challenges facing our country... A strategic alliance with Lyft will allow us to positively impact and improve Americans' health nationwide.”
In some respects this makes sense. Public transportation outside of large urban centers of the United States is lacking. With that in mind, leveraging the use of ride sharing companies as a means to fit the needs of their patients makes sense from a business standpoint. Arguably, while the company may cover the cost, it doesn't have to subsidize any other payments or other items, as ride sharing platforms rely on individual contract drivers for their service. But for some, the question becomes, 'why pharmacy?'
Well, BCBS may see this as a means to help increase adherence for some populations. The other item I would consider is the push for the use of minute clinics at the pharmacies. It appears that CVS and Walgreens will be paying for the rides, despite the partnership between BCBS and Lyft, and only for select regions and locations. Personally, I don't see the profitability of having patients ride out to a pharmacy only to pick up their medications, especially given CVS recent foray into their same-day delivery service.
The only way I see this actually being profitable is by getting patients to minute clinics and related health care sites attached to pharmacies. My argument would fall along with the transportation desert, and care deserts that are cropping up across the United States, that BCBS is recognizing are a risk to their patient population longterm health status. Pharmacies have increased the number of midlevel practitioners, supply medications, and vaccinations, etc. So make them a health hub, expand CLIA wavered testing facilities ,and then you have a 1-stop shop in small communities. Now just get them there with a Lyft or an Uber ride, and call it a day.
I think the takeaway from a lot of these recent announcements about services being targeted at pharmacies needs to take into consideration that it really doesn't mean the 'mom and pop' stores that we traditionally think about. Instead, pharmacies are increasingly turning into health centers, and CVS, with their recent acquisitions, seems to want to make a play for keeping all of their patients 'in-store' if possible. By expanding diagnosis abilities and prescriber roles, they can have a more significant market that really will have the possibility to increase profits, and, arguably, patient care in locations that really have no access to a lot of resources.
- Bruce Japsen. CVS And Walgreens Partner With Lyft To Get Blue Cross Patients To Pharmacies. Forbes. March 14, 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/brucejapsen/2018/03/14/cvs-and-walgreens-partner-with-lyft-to-get-blue-cross-patients-to-pharmacies/#51bffcdd76c8. Accessed March 27, 2018.
- Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Lyft Join Forces to Increase Access to Health Care in Communities with Transportation Deserts [news release]. Blue Cross Blue Shield Newsroom. Chicago. May 10, 2017. https://www.bcbs.com/news/press-releases/blue-cross-and-blue-shield-and-lyft-join-forces-increase-access-health-care. Accessed April 5, 2018.