Walgreens Tests Mobile Scheduling App

Take Care clinics in Denver and Chicago let patients schedule appointments using iTriage smartphone application.
11 Super Mobile Medical Apps
11 Super Mobile Medical Apps
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In a pilot that will be closely watched by healthcare providers, Walgreens' Take Care Health Systems is letting consumers use their smartphones to schedule appointments at its retail clinics in Denver and Chicago. To use the new scheduling service, patients must first download the free iTriage app for iPhones and Android devices.

Users have downloaded iTriage 6 million times in the three years it's been available, according to a Walgreens spokesman. The application offers online resources to help consumers understand their symptoms, as well as a nationwide directory that includes physicians, emergency rooms, urgent care centers, and retail clinics.

Take Care, the second-largest retail clinic chain in the U.S. with 355 locations, began offering online appointment scheduling on its website in January. The website also provides estimated wait times at clinics, as well as quality and cost information.

"With iTriage, patients can quickly see whether they can get an appointment at a particular location, or, if that location is booked, check a different location," said Heather Helle, divisional vice president of Walgreens' Consumer Solutions, in an interview. "It brings simplicity, ease of access, and a new level of convenience for patients."

[ Wearable devices equipped with sensors and Web connections help consumers track health and fitness. Take a look at what's possible now: 10 Wearable Devices To Keep Patients Healthy. ]

Take Care is the first retail clinic operation to offer scheduling functionality for mobile phones, according to Helle. She noted that competitors' clinics are also listed in the iTriage directory.

Primary care practices, which view retail clinics as competition, are behind the curve in this area, Glenn Stream, MD, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, told InformationWeek Healthcare. While some physicians let their patients request appointments through Web portals, he said, the AAFP is not aware of any practices that let patients schedule appointments on their mobile phones.

Indeed, Stream noted, primary care physicians are still uncomfortable with the idea of letting patients choose their appointment times. When patients request appointments, office staffers typically decide which time slot is most appropriate for them.

Nevertheless, Stream predicts that if Take Care and other retail clinics provide mobile access to appointment scheduling, primary care practices will follow suit to accommodate their patients. Already, the convenience offered by retail clinics has been one of the factors motivating family practices to offer same-day appointments and to expand their office hours.

Stream believes that mainstream medicine must keep up with the mobile trend sweeping the country. He cited an app for health information exchanges that texts a patient when he or she has new information in their personal health record. "That's the direction we're going toward, because people want access to their information on a mobile device, and [they want] the ability to interact with their healthcare provider."

Walgreens has been very proactive in using mobile technology. For example, the pharmacy chain lets patients refill prescriptions online by using their smartphones to swipe the bar code on their pill bottles. Walgreens also texts customers when it's time for a refill, and the app reminds them when it's time to take a pill.

"Today people are managing everything online--whether it be their finances or their social life," Helle noted. "Now, with this application, they have the ability to manage their personal healthcare from wherever they may be."

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