In a series of recent moves, large retailers with pharmacy operations have struck deals with or acquired smaller companies with the aim of adding on-demand, retail clinics at national scale — and marketing them to health plans or employers. While storefront clinics aren’t new, especially in big box stores, health care insiders say the emphasis on selling to plans over consumers is novel, and that health plans may come to see such agreements as an essential benefit.

Experts tell AIS Health that the retail clinic deals build on several trends that have transformed health care delivery in recent years. The pandemic has changed patient and member expectations in countless ways: In particular, patients have come to expect on-demand access to virtual care. Also, patients now rely on urgent care for a growing number of encounters. That trend is related to declines in primary care affiliations, especially among younger people. And, perhaps most of all, new players — venture capital and large firms seeking new growth — are making inroads into the potentially lucrative health care space.

Walgreens Boots Alliance on Oct. 14 acquired a controlling stake in VillageMD for $5.2 billion. Walgreens previously held a 30% stake in the primary care firm, which focuses on value-based contracts with payers. According to a Walgreens press release, the firm plans to open “at least 600 Village Medical at Walgreens primary care practices in more than 30 U.S. markets by 2025 and 1,000 by 2027, with more than half of those practices in medically underserved communities.”

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