Health

Walgreens, CVS Getting Into the Dental Business

Companies are trying out dental clinics in their pharmacies as part of the “Amazon effect” to make services more convenient.

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Experts say dental services from Walgreens and CVS could eat into profits of dentists. Getty Images

Heading over to your pharmacy to pick up your prescription?

While you’re at it, why not get your teeth cleaned or even straightened.

How? It turns out Walgreens and CVS are both launching pilot programs to offer dental services at their retail pharmacies.

Walgreens opened an Aspen Dental Office in its pharmacy in Gainesville, Florida in December. The pharmacy chain is set to open a second dental office in a Walgreens in Tampa later this year.

In a statement to Healthline, Walgreens said it’s all part of a plan to transform its stores into “neighborhood health destinations.”

“Neighborhood health destinations focus on the customer and patient experience and provide access to a broad range of affordable health care services in a trusted, convenient setting,” wrote Pat Carroll, MD, Walgreens’ chief medical officer.

He went on to say that at certain Walgreens locations, customers can also get lab work done or their hearing and vision checked. Some of the services are designed to make it one-stop shopping for senior citizens.

“Additionally, we’ve teamed up with Humana to test expanded clinical services for seniors by co-locating ‘Partners in Primary Care’ clinics in two Walgreens stores” Dr. Carroll added, “bringing together primary care, pharmacy, in-person health plan support, and other services for Medicare beneficiaries.”

In a statement to Healthline, CVS Health said it already sells SmileDirectClub teeth alignment products in about 100 CVS Pharmacy locations nationwide.

Now it’s testing SmileShopExpress in a handful of CVS stores, where customers can get a 3-D scan.

“CVS Pharmacy is committed to making health easier and more convenient for our customers,” the statement says.

CVS Health first launched its in-store walk-in Minute Clinics in 2006.

Last November, CVS acquired Aetna, one of the country’s largest health insurers.

We put that question to Kirthi Kalyanam, PhD, a distinguished professor in the Leavy School of Business at Santa Clara University in California and director of the Retail Management Institute.

Dr. Kalyanam told Healthline that retail pharmacies are reacting to a phenomenon he calls the “Amazon effect.”

More customers are shopping online for products they would normally buy in a drug store. Why? The price point is right and there’s the convenience of home delivery.

Kalyanam adds that last year, Amazon bought PillPack, an internet pharmacy startup.

So brick and mortar pharmacies are now looking for ways to stay in the game.

“The only thing resilient against this kind of Amazon encroachment is services,” Kalyanam said. “The adding of services that you can’t do online is the way physical retail has to survive.”

In addition, he said, the pharmacies are playing to their strengths, which is location, location, location.

“There’s probably a Walgreens or CVS much closer to you than your doctor’s office or lab,” Kalyanam said.

“Investors and corporations have figured out that dentistry and orthodontics are pretty profitable,” Dr. Doug Depew, DMD, a practicing orthodontist and trainer, told Healthline.

Dr. Depew said there may be more of this in the future, and patients will have to do their due diligence and check out the dental service providers offered in pharmacies.

“I’m biased because I’m in private practice, but I’ve seen it over and over again,” he said. “Companies come in and try to cut corners, and patient care suffers.”

Alex Zlatin is the chief executive officer of Maxim Software Systems, a company that advises struggling dentists on how to manage their practices.

He told Healthline that going forward, the increased competition from retail pharmacies may be good news for patients, but not necessarily for private practice dentists.

He says it could take an even bigger bite out of their already shrinking profit margins.

“The expansion of dentistry into pharmacies is a threat to those in private practice,” Zlatin said.

“The way for private clinics to deal with this is to focus on how they’re different,” he added. “They have to build on their strength as a smaller clinic in the community, build relationships with their patients, and create loyalty.”


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