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Innovative technology streamlines shopping


The way Walgreens is deploying technology through its stores may be futuristic, but it is no science fiction. It’s real innovation that is helping to drive its total transformation along so many areas of its business — and it’s being produced in real-time. For instance, last month, the company finished installing a new universal point-of-sale system across its entire store base; began the rollout of a common electronic medical health record platform that will be in all stores by 2013; and just this month introduced its new loyalty program, Balance Rewards, data, which will help inform many of the healthcare offerings currently in development. 

Leading this work for Walgreens is Tim Theriault, SVP and chief information officer. “Technology can enable a very good experience at a very low cost and allow our people to concentrate on the most important aspect, and that’s [taking care of] the patient,” he said. “All the interconnectivity required will happen automatically for them — for the patient as well as the providers — when necessary.”

In a wide-ranging discussion with DSN, Theriault outlined four key areas in which technology is helping to transform the Walgreens experience:

1. Walgreens’ new POS system completed in August — the servers driving that new system are cheaper, faster and have redundancies built in to prevent outages. In addition, the new system features enhanced security and the ability to support mobile devices and Walgreens’ new Balance Rewards loyalty program. 

2. Its next-generation data center will help feed consumer information at Walgreens, and will in turn help identify opportunities ranging from what works — and what doesn’t — on issues ranging from in-store merchandising to ideal site selection for new stores. It also includes HIPAA-compliant pharmacy data that can be shared with doctors and other practitioners on a patient’s care team, as approved by the patient. 

3. Making it easy for Walgreens healthcare practitioners to readily access health information without having to hand their patients a clipboard on every successive visit, Walgreens last month introduced a new component of its HealthCloud system. An electronic health record solution, called WellHealth EHR provided through Greenway Medical Technologies, is currently available in as many as 500 stores, with a chainwide rollout planned to be completed by fall 2013.

And like Walgreens’ new POS system, WellHealth EHR is scalable to support additional pharmacy, health and wellness services in the future, including integration with electronic prescribing and data exchange that tracks patients throughout the care continuum. “One of the things that we’re excited about at Walgreens is [that] health care is primarily regional and local, but we’re a national provider,” Theriault said. “So we want to make sure that we connect with hospitals and doctors electronically in the same way through e-prescribing around clinical formats. Being connected to the other elements of health care is fundamentally important to us.“

There’s also a scheduling functionality that has been made available to third-party vendors. The mobile app iTriage, which creates a “symptom-to-provider pathway” that users can use as a self-diagnosis tool, incorporates a scheduler functionality to allow customers to make an appointment at a nearby Take Care Clinic. That capability is currently being test-marketed in the Chicago and Denver markets. 

Walgreens is currently populating its HealthCloud with state-by-state regulations on administering vaccines. “We’re also offering the ability to send a physician notification letter and updating the state registry at the same time,” he said. 

4. The fourth element of Walgreens 2.0 is Cloud9, an employee productivity platform that facilitates a more efficient workflow across Walgreens’ employee base that supports a mobile work force. “We’re transforming everyone, from the corporate offices to the stores, to the data centers, to the distribution centers,” Theriault said. “Untethering is happening everywhere. It’s more of a mobile work force.”

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