Walgreens partners with Microsoft in healthcare delivery strategy

Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) has teamed up with technology company Microsoft to develop new healthcare delivery models, the companies announced Jan. 15.

The partnership brings together one of the biggest multinational digital technology companies in the world and a pharmacy-led health and wellbeing enterprise. The companies intend to make healthcare delivery “more personal, affordable and accessible for people around the world.”

Specifically, the companies will focus on connecting WBA stores and health information systems to people through their digital devices, enabling virtual care.

The move mirrors other major collaborations aimed at lowering healthcare costs, including a joint venture between Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase & Co., which was announced last year. Microsoft has increasingly stepped into the healthcare space over the last few years, including introducing its AI program to fund research to care for those with disabilities and a partnership with Teladoc, a virtual care delivery services company.

Walgreens will set up 12 "digital health corners" in pilot stores to sell healthcare-related devices and hardware. 

The companies cited a need and opportunity to integrate the fragmented healthcare system to make healthcare more data-driven and convenient as the catalyst for their collaboration.

“Improving health outcomes while lowering the cost of care is a complex challenge that requires broad collaboration and strong partnership between the health care and tech industries,” Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, said in a statement.

The union combines multiple aspects of both entities, including Microsoft’s Azure, cloud and AI platform, healthcare investments and retail solutions leveraging Walgreens’ customer reach, locations, outpatient healthcare services and industry expertise, according to the announcement.

“WBA will work with Microsoft to harness the information that exists between payors and health care providers to leverage, in the interest of patients and with their consent, our extraordinary network of accessible and convenient locations to deliver new innovations, greater value and better health outcomes in health care systems across the world,” Stefano Pessina, executive vice chairman and CEO of WBA, said in a statement.

Walgreens and Microsoft also committed to a multiyear research and development investment, including funding, subject-matter experts, technology and tools aimed at building healthcare solutions to improve health outcomes and lower the cost of care.

With its consumer-centric approach, the companies will work with healthcare providers of patients to proactively engage them with personalized healthcare services, such as preventative self-care and chronic disease management, as well as medication adherence, nutrition and other lifestyle management solutions that could reduce emergency room visits and readmissions. The integration of information, based on data science and AI, will allow for better healthcare data transitions into community-based locations, the companies stated. A suite of chronic disease management, patient engagement applications and a portfolio of connected Internet of Things devices will be delivered through Microsoft’s cloud, AI and IoT technologies.

The focus also is reminiscent of CVS Health’s ramp-up of consumer services like telemedicine and its recent acquisition of health insurer Aetna, as the company aims to meet more consumers where they are––in communities––with its healthcare services and lower costs.

As part of the agreement, WBA will migrate the majority of its IT infrastructure onto Microsoft Azure, including retail, pharmacy and business services platforms. WBA will also roll out Microsoft 365 to more than 380,000 employees and stores globally.