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Take Care Health Systems develops telehealth offering for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina

BY Michael Johnsen

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — American Well, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina and Walgreens’ Take Care Health Systems have collaborated to make telehealth services available to thousands of BCBSNC employees located throughout North Carolina. The service, called OnlineCareNC, allows BCBSNC employees from home or work to receive a healthcare consultation from credentialed Take Care Health System nurse practitioners, health coaches or nutritionists through two-way video, secure text chat or phone.

“Providing affordable and convenient access to quality health care in North Carolina is critical to the overall health of our employees, customers and state,” stated Fara Palumbo, chief human resources officer for BCBSNC. “Our collaboration with American Well and Take Care Health allows us to explore the capabilities of this new technology to meet the growing healthcare needs of our employees and customers, now and in the future.”

BCBSNC employees can use OnlineCareNC to connect with a Take Care nutritionist or health coach for a live visit, while those with established relationships with BCBSNC’s health center providers can use the online technology to talk live with a nurse practitioner. During each online visit, Take Care Clinic healthcare providers will be able to review the employee’s available clinical information, discuss symptoms and recommend follow-up care, as appropriate, to established patients. The telehealth system will automatically create a complete electronic record of each online visit, supporting continuity of care and collaboration among the providers caring for employees.

“Innovative approaches, such as telehealth, and specifically OnlineCareNC, enable us to expand our reach and positively impact more lives, ultimately driving better health outcomes while also reducing costs for patients, businesses and payers,” said Peter Hotz, group VP for Walgreens. 

Telehealth service offerings are undergoing rapid adoption by insurers and employers across the United States to meet employer and consumer demand for convenient and cost-effective care, Walgreens reported. For example, nearly 40% of BCBSNC employees are currently enrolled in consumer-driven HSA plans. OnlineCareNC provides a convenient and cost-effective option for BCBSNC employees on these types of health plans, who are more actively looking for ways to manage their own medical costs. A July 2012 Towers Watson report found that more than 1-in-4 employers plan to offer telehealth services within 12 months, while a June 2012 Accenture survey found 3-in-4 patients want to communicate with their doctors electronically.

“Health plan- and employer-sponsored telehealth solutions are gaining momentum nationally and globally as they prove to increase access to care and start to rein in costs,” noted Ido Schoenberg, chairman and CEO of American Well.  “Online Care is increasingly being embraced as it delivers on the promise to lower costs while increasing patient access to immediate, real-time health care when and where it’s needed.”

Take Care Health Systems, a division of Walgreens, manages the on-site BCBSNC health centers. OnlineCareNC is available to BCBSNC employees from home and at Virtual Clinics located at corporate headquarters in Durham and Winston-Salem, N.C.

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P.Jones says:
Aug-27-2013 05:50 am

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Kroger looking to expand its footprint into new markets, both physical and digital

BY Michael Johnsen

CINCINNATI — Over the course of a day-long investor conference Tuesday, Kroger outlined its future growth strategy. Across its physical store base, Kroger plans to enter one or two as-yet-to-be-named new markets along with boosting presence in existing markets. But Kroger also has significant designs on the multichannel consumer, and outlined for analysts the grocer’s plan to grow its marketshare across the digital landscape as well.

Kroger is presently in 42 major markets, defined as where Kroger fields nine or more supermarkets. According to the company, 71% of Kroger’s volume comes out of those 42 markets. In 38 of those major markets, Kroger ranks No. 1 or No. 2 in market share with its greatest competitor being Walmart. 

"We plan to look at fill-in markets, places where we have the opportunity to grow, [and] in these markets that are not as fully developed now, we see big opportunity," David Dillon, Kroger chairman and CEO told analysts. "Second, we plan to identify new markets, not something you’ve heard us talk about much in the past, … but our intention is to identify new markets and to make plans and to expand the footprint of the company."

"It’s been a long time since we’ve entered a new market," said Rodney McMullen, Kroger president and COO. "We’re in the early planning stages of that," he said. "We’ve actually started on it a few months ago, just identifying markets where we think there’s an opportunity both from a competitive standpoint and the way a competitor connects with their customer."

That connectivity with the customer represents another crucial growth opportunity for Kroger. "We’ve done a lot of research making sure we understand how well in these new markets would our future competitors be connecting with customers in that market, and what type of opportunities does that create for us in terms of what type of store we operate," McMullen said. "Because we’re finding more and more, as we have improved our experience, there’s more and more competitors that aren’t delivering at that same level of performance for customers."

"Our customers tell us that they love the communications that we have used, particularly in the personalization area. We’ve been doing that for years, but our customers are moving more and more into the digital arena, and so we are targeting to spend greater energy and some capex in the digital area," Dillon said. 

Almost a decade ago, Kroger created a joint venture with Dunnhumby, called DunnhumbyUSA, on the Kroger Plus Card. "The Dunnhumby data not only tells us within a store what’s happening and what customer combinations are there, but [also] within households what’s going on in these households and what they like to buy over a long period of time," Dillon said. "It’s one thing to look at a basket of goods and see what they buy together at one moment, but we can see what they buy over long periods [of] time. [With] the work we do and other data pieces in the market, we’re able to see not only what they buy at Kroger but also what they buy in other places too."

"If you think about the digital world, we’re going to know where you browse, we’re going to know what you watch, we’re going to know where you are," noted Michael Donnelly, Kroger SVP merchandising. "If we can do the things that we think we can do, using big data and coupling it with our insights, we think this is going to be a competitive advantage," he said. "It’s really bringing big data in what we do to a personal level." Donnelly outlined a future scenario where a Kroger customer will walk into a store with an app-generated shopping list at their fingertips. 

"One of the things we find is not every customer wants to be connected with digitally," McMullen said. "So what we’re really working on is having a customer [be able to] connect with us the way a customer wants to connect with us, not the way we tell them you have to connect with us," he added. That theme — allowing the customer to dictate how a retailer goes to market — is becoming commonplace among retailers with strong loyalty programs. 

McMullen noted that Kroger’s shopping app is downloaded once every 30 seconds, which translates into two opportunities to better connect with a valuable consumer every minute. "What we find is when a customer engages with us, through an app and other methods, they produce better. They give us more of their share of market," he said. "If you look at a typical customers’ spend, when they connect multiple ways, we get a higher share of that customer’s basket."

Kroger also spoke to the importance a strong health, wellness and pharmacy position going forward, including its partnership with retail clinic operator Little Clinic. "The reason why we created that partnership [with Little Clinic] three or four years ago is we believe there’s a long-term trend in health care, and we don’t think the current healthcare system provides [for that trend]," noted Michael Scholtman, Kroger CFO and SVP. "We just think it’s a wonderful opportunity, and it fits so much into our model in terms of convenience and the things that we already offer."

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Supermarkets rate high in customer satisfaction, checkouts, cleanliness count

BY Barbara White-Sax

PLAINVIEW, N.Y. — A recent study showed that supermarkets generate high satisfaction among their shoppers. Supermarkets scored an average of 4.47 on a five-point satisfaction scale (where five is the highest), according to the "2012 U.S. Supermarket Experience Study" conducted by the Retail Feedback Group.

The study found that out-of-stocks were the greatest influencer of trip satisfaction. Supermarket shoppers unable to find all items they had planned to buy on their shopping trip averaged 3.97 on the five-point satisfaction scale, compared with 4.54 among shoppers who did find all items.

Out-of-stocks can cost retailers sales; half of the shoppers surveyed said they would go to another store to purchase the item they wanted, compared to 38% who said they would forego the item; 14% who said they would buy a different item at the store instead; and 12% saying they would buy a different brand or size.

The survey also revealed that supermarkets got high marks for variety and selection of grocery items and that cleanliness counts. Nearly 4-in-10 shoppers who bypass stores say they do so due to a lack of cleanliness.

The checkout experience is also crucial; 90% of shoppers used a cashier lane to check out, as opposed to self-checkout, and 56% indicated that the cashier positively impacted their trip satisfaction.

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