Walgreens (NYSE:WAG) plans to provide lab blood-testing services at its 8,100 pharmacies in the future, thanks to a new partnership with lab-services company Theranos, the companies said on Monday (Sept. 9).
Under the agreement, Theranos will open testing clinics inside Walgreens stores where customers get blood tests that are less invasive and more affordable, in part because they're in the store rather than at a hospital or doctor's office. Pricing on the tests will be the same for customers with or without insurance coverage, and will be based on Medicare reimbursement rates.
Theranos said its lab tests can use blood from a tiny finger stick or microsample, which is one-thousandth the size of a typical blood draw. That reduces the need for experienced technicians to take the larger samples required for traditional blood testing. Turnaround time is also much faster than at a typical non-hospital doctor's office, where samples must be sent out for testing. Some tests may also be more accurate because the samples are fresher.
The first Theranos Wellness Center in a Walgreens store will open this month in a store in Palo Alto, Calif. Eventually the companies plan to offer blood screening at Walgreens locations nationwide, but the companies did not set a timeframe for that expansion.
For Walgreens, the new testing service means an opportunity to move yet another doctor's-office function in-store. In this case, unlike bringing nurse-practitioners in-store, there's no real downside for M.D.s, who aren't doing their own testing anyway and can end up in the middle of billing disputes between patients and testing labs.
One advantage of physicians connected with large hospitals is that they can literally send a patient to the hospital's testing lab a few buildings down and get lab results on a same-day basis, often while the patient waits. If Walgreens and Theranos can bring that level of turnaround to office-visit blood tests, physicians may end up forgiving drugstores for taking away so much of their flu business.
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