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Walgreens wants customers to check their own mental health online

TechCrunch TechCrunch 10/05/2016 Lora Kolodny

Walgreens, the largest drug retailing chain in the U.S., has launched a partnership with Mental Health America, and a telehealth company MDLIVE, to encourage people to screen themselves for mental health problems, and if they need to, seek help from a therapist online.

More than 20% of American adults between the ages of 18 and 49 are dealing with some form of mental illness, whether that’s something more common like depression and eating disorders, or a range of other issues like anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorders and more, according to the latest data from the National Institute of Mental Health.

If more of these people are diagnosed and attain prescriptions for medications to treat their mental health conditions, of course that amounts to more potential sales for Walgreens pharmacies.

But the Chief Medical Officer and Group Vice President for Walgreens, Dr. Harry Leider, says what’s most important to him is raising awareness of mental health problems, and making sure that people have access to the help that they need.

Currently, six million people already go to Walgreens brick and mortar stores every day and two million visit Walgreens website or mobile app each day.

Leider said, “We set a goal with MHA that we’ll screen 3 million customers for mental health conditions by the end of 2017. That’s a big goal. If we do that…just statistically that should ID over half a million people who are battling a mental health condition, but otherwise may not have known it. Then we can facilitate them getting care.”

Specifically, Walgreens has launched a “dedicated Answer Center” that refers users to the Mental Health Association website and its free, online screening tools, or surveys, to gauge their own mental health.

The behemoth retailer has also begun to offer mental health training to its pharmacists, and the nurse practitioners and physicians assistants in its clinics.

Dr. Leider pointed out that many of the millions of people dealing with some kind of mental illness lack access to therapists in their communities. To make counseling more accessible, Walgreens will also be linking site and app users to teletherapy providers MDLIVE’s Breakthrough.com, a confidential online counseling service.

Breakthrough lets users search for a mental health professional, and in states where it is legal to do so, attain counseling services from them online, from the comfort of their own homes and typically at a cost that is lower than seeing a therapist in person.

Dr. Leider said, “For a certain segment of the population, telemedicine can provide a preferred experience than in person. It’s more convenient, you don’t have to drive somewhere and sit in someone’s office, and for some people doing counseling via phone call, video or what have you, brings partial anonymity and it is more comfortable for them.”

For three years in a row, according to the non-profit National Alliance on Mental Illness, funding for mental health services fell in more states than it grew. So it’s probably a good thing that health tech businesses and major retailers are aiming to provide affordable treatment options online.

The companies declined to comment on the specific terms of Walgreens business relationship with MDLIVE and how much revenue either may be poised to make through working with the other.

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