On a recent Monday in May, The New York Times ran a story in the paper’s Business section appropriately titled “Will the Future of Therapy Be at the Drugstore?”
The article dealt primarily with CVS’ apparent decision to test the availability of mental health specialists within the retailer’s MinuteClinic nonemergency health care facilities in 13 locations in the Houston, Philadelphia and Tampa metro areas. The Times opined that the experiment was further along than merely in the discussion phase, noting that the provider intends to “offer mental health assessments, referrals and counseling either in person or via telehealth, a CVS spokeswoman said,” adding that “this spring the company plans to expand to 34 locations in those same regions.”
The article was startling for many reasons. To those familiar with chain drug retailing in America it came as no surprise that CVS Health, a pioneer in nonemergency health care, had determined to take this next, important step in transforming itself from a drug chain to a health care provider. It is certainly fair to say that CVS is the mass retailing leader in this ongoing endeavor.
No. The surprise here is the fact that The Times didn’t limit this effort to CVS. Rather, the newspaper went on to cite the progress of several other mass retailers toward the same or similar ends, specifically calling out the endeavors of Walmart, Rite Aid, Walgreens and Albertsons in this area. More specifically, The Times had this to say about those endeavors:
• Walmart, it noted, is acquiring MeMD, which offers online medical and mental health care, adding that America’s largest mass retailer currently provides counseling via Walmart Health, a small chain of health care facilities located in separate buildings alongside Walmart Supercenters. “In Georgia,” the article continued, “Walmart offers in-person mental health counseling, and in Arkansas customers can receive online counseling.”
• Rite Aid, The Times noted, is piloting “teletherapy” in the “virtual care rooms” of 13 stores in Idaho, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
• Walgreens is facilitating therapy appointments through the retailer’s Web platform, Walgreens Find Care, which connects customers to teletherapy from BetterHelp or Sanvello. The retailer also offers free access to online mental health screenings through its partnership with Mental Health America.
• At Albertsons, pharmacists in 23 states administer injectable antipsychotic drugs as well as injectable medications to help treat substance abuse, a program that has been in operation for nearly a decade.
The Times stopped there, contenting itself with quoting health care professionals to explain why programs such as these make sense and why easier access to mental health care providers is long overdue.
The point in all this, and the reason The New York Times saw fit to devote five columns in its Business section to this development is obvious: It’s news. For some considerable time now the corner drug store has been evolving into a primary health care facility. Nor should it come as a surprise to industry people that the individual at the core of this transformation is the pharmacist, that underappreciated and often undervalued health care practitioner who, as much as any individual in America, deserves credit for bringing the COVID-19 pandemic under control.
Face it: Chain drug retailing and, to a lesser extent, mass retailing in general is changing. It is becoming, by leaps and bounds, more critical, more valuable, more important and more necessary that it has ever been. For the uninformed it required The New York Times to bring us up to date on this transition. To the rest of us, it is merely further confirmation, to those who require it, of the overwhelming importance of this industry of which we’re a small but vital part.