BYRON CENTER — SpartanNash Co. has jumped into the rapidly growing telemedicine arena with a new service that emphasizes affordability.
SpartanNash partnered with the Land O’ Lakes, Fla.-based Bonum Health LLC on a telemedicine service that charges a $29 fee for a single virtual doctor visit for minor ailments, or a monthly subscription that provides five visits a month for one adult and dependents for $11.
SpartanNash believes those prices give the telemedicine service an edge over virtual care offerings by health systems and medical practices, said SpartanNash Director of Pharmacy Eddie Garcia.
“You won’t find one that you can take a telemedicine visit for $29,” Garcia said. “We were adamant that we wanted to be more affordable than what was out there in the market today.”
Customers can access the service through the pharmacy section of the websites for SpartanNash’s retail stores — Family Fare, Martin’s Super Markets, D&W Fresh Market, VG’s Grocery, Econofoods, Family Fresh Market and Forest Hills Foods. Users can either download an app or create a telemedicine account.
“The SpartanNash partnership with Bonum Health promotes equitable access to U.S. board-certified providers and allows any guest who may be uninsured, under-insured or simply looking for cost savings with immediate, high-quality care,” SpartanNash President and CEO Tony Sarsam said in a statement announcing the new service.
SpartanNash’s entry into the burgeoning telehealth sector last month was largely driven by customers asking pharmacy staff questions about proper medicines to treat health issues. The company wanted to offer affordable options for accessing care in cases when customers needed more than what a store pharmacy could provide.
Garcia said these inquiries often lead to the need for a doctor visit.
“A lot of these people don’t have a personal physician,” he said. “If they go anywhere, they’re going to the emergency room or they’re going to a clinic that may or may not be open at the time they come by our stores. This offers an opportunity for them to get that service at an affordable rate.”
Pandemic drives telehealth
The Byron Center-based SpartanNash, which has more than 150 retail stores, had considered launching a telemedicine service prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Garcia was a “non-believer” prior to the pandemic given the previously infrequent use of telemedicine visits.
The rapid growth of telemedicine during the pandemic “made me a believer in the service,” he said.
“Once physician offices actually closed, people needed to have an option. That’s when we started thinking about this and we finally just found the right partner,” said Garcia, who has known Bonum Health President Ashton Maaraba for more than two decades.
“The convenience is there and the cost is very affordable,” Garcia said. “It’s time. People are used to doing this.”
Bonum Health is a subsidiary of health information technology company Trxade Inc. (Nasdaq: MEDS) that serves retail pharmacies.
The pandemic that began in the spring of 2020 elevated telemedicine to a standard component of health care delivery.
A recent white paper by United Kingdom-based Juniper Research noted that New York-based platform Teladoc Health Inc. at one point during the pandemic hosted 20,000 virtual visits daily, 60 percent of which were with new patients.
Another report, by eMarketer.com, said the number of adults in the U.S. who accessed a doctor through a virtual visit nearly doubled to 41.7 million from 2019 to 2020. Researchers predict that to grow to 48.1 million in 2021 and 57.3 million in 2022.
An eMarketer analyst noted in a February report that COVID-19 “has permanently altered our healthcare system and the use of telemedicine is here to stay, even after the pandemic.”
SpartanNash doesn’t have a specific target for the number of customers who use the new telemedicine service through Bonum Health, but Garcia hopes participation gradually grows month over month “and that it doesn’t plateau.”