Loblaw Introduces PC Health: A Digital Healthcare Ecosystem

The all-in-one app is set to provide direct access to healthcare and reward Canadians for trackable healthy activities.

One of the most meaningful benefits to come from continued digital evolution is the power to access healthcare and wellness on-demand–the barrier has never been lower. A quick search is all it takes to video chat with a doctor, create a detailed nutrition plan, discover the best ways to manage stress, or access a plethora of health and wellness information.

With seemingly infinite options, users have to make a choice, which is usually a good thing. But in the world of healthcare, choice can actually create barriers. Different tools, platforms, and services are each tied to their respective companies and organizations. These tools may be great at addressing a specific problem or challenge but rarely do they connect to a holistic view of a person’s healthcare. If a digital service can only solve one aspect of health, it’s only marginally better than its traditional predecessor.

Simply put, digital access is a critical piece of the health puzzle, but right now exists as a collection of siloed services. It’s a tough problem to solve, but Loblaw feels up to the task.

“We are breaking new ground here. It’s not just about the front door to Loblaw, but the front door to healthcare.”

Doug Bryce, VP of health and pharmacy programs and innovation, Shoppers Drug Mart

The only grocer for the job

Two months ago, the massive chain Loblaw announced the launch of the PC Health app. Billed as “an innovative solution to provide Canadians access to care and resources how and where they want it,” PC Health is a natural progression for the company.

Even though PC Health is Loblaw’s first cohesive app focusing on healthcare, it’s just the latest in a string of moves focused on expanding its health-oriented services. A logical place to start is Loblaw’s 2014 $12.4 billion (CAD) acquisition of Shopper Drug Mart, the country’s largest chain of pharmacies. Since then, Loblaw has steadily increased its healthcare services with moves like in-store dieticians, a blockchain cannabis verification program, investments in telehealth startups, and now, PC Health.

A look at the PC Health app.

While at first glance PC Health is just an app, Doug Bryce, VP of health and pharmacy programs and innovation at Shoppers Drug Mart, knows it has the potential to become a fully-fledged healthcare environment. 

“Navigating healthcare can be challenging and time-consuming,” he says. “Through PC Health, we’re going to empower customers to manage their health, with access to care how, where, and when they want it.”

Bryce also points out that PC Health is, in his mind, unlike anything that exists in the Canadian healthcare market. They’re not here to push others out of the healthcare space, but instead bring together the parts of healthcare that work, all within one platform.

“It’s not about competing with other systems—quite the opposite actually,” says Bryce. “This is about helping people navigate and access public systems more efficiently. In terms of who we compare ourselves to, there really isn’t anything. There are groups and companies that do this in a particular way and fulfill one need, but because of how hard it is to do that in a country where there are provincial variations and technical challenges, no one has really tried to do this. We are breaking new ground here. It’s not just about the front door to Loblaw, but the front door to healthcare.”

The PC Health basics

The goal of PC Health is to weave many different healthcare services together and offer incentives to ensure the healthiest possible outcomes. After downloading the app, users are taken through a 25 question onboarding flow that “creates an endless aisle of programs, content, and education for the user,” according to Bryce. After they’re enrolled, a number of services become available. 

One of the major differentiators touted by PC Health is free live access to caregivers. Earlier this year, Loblaw invested $75 million (CAD) into virtual healthcare startup Maple, and now the service is a core component of the platform. Today, users can chat with nurses and dieticians, and a fully-integrated platform with Maple will debut in early 2021, granting real-time access to physicians, specialists, physiotherapists, psychotherapists, social workers, and more. 

Inside the PC Health app.

“It’s about trying to bridge this gap between all of these siloed solutions and give people one font door where they can get access to whatever provider they need to solve their problem,” says Bryce. 

Another service currently offered is called Health Programs. Created in partnership with League, a health benefits company that works with insurance giants like Canada Life, the programs prompt users to enroll and solve a specific health problem. It might be reducing sugar, managing stress, or getting healthier through exercise. Whatever the topic may be, League and Loblaw provide educational content that guides the user on their specific journey to get healthier. 

“Using PC Optimum points to prompt specific daily activities that are associated with positive health outcomes is a really huge opportunity.”

Doug Bryce

Optimism for PC Optimum rewards

Guided programs aren’t new by any means, but the real differentiator here rewards integration: once a user marks a daily activity as complete in the app, they receive PC Optimum points to their linked account. PC Optimum is the biggest loyalty program in Canada, with more than two-thirds of the country’s adult population enrolled. Points are as good as cash and combined with goal-oriented health programs, they create a system that, while still unproven, has a chance to massively impact the Canadian digital healthcare ecosystem. 

“PC Optimum has a really big opportunity to motivate Canadians and drive healthy behavior,” says Bryce, pointing out that it could really make an impact on those with chronic diseases. “We’re weaving loyalty and health together and we’re still experimenting. Using PC Optimum points to prompt specific daily activities that are associated with positive health outcomes is a really huge opportunity and we’re really working towards that.”

It’s difficult to underscore the importance of rewards in an app like PC Health. There are hundreds of healthcare solutions that provide services similar to PC Health, but none of them offer points that can be redeemed for household staples as soon as they are earned. This loyalty-first concept is a huge part of Loblaw’s overall roadmap to success across each of its brands. 

“Loyalty as a strategy is woven through the platform,” says Bryce. “As customers in our network would expect, you earn points on services. So the real opportunity here is to help motivate customers to make healthier choices and manage their conditions and health goals by offering PC Optimum points.”

There is also a marketplace tied to Loblaw’s billion-dollar e-commerce business where users can browse healthy foods and goods in the app. Bryce says this will continually expand, and even begin to offer items that fit directly into tailored health programs, along with extra injections of loyalty to help prod users towards healthy choices. 

Wearables and integrated data

One thing Bryce is careful to note is that PC health is in its infancy. He realizes there is so much to learn in the digital healthcare space, and so much room to grow, going as far as to call PC Health Loblaw’s MVP in the space. But he is excited about the future, and the future means integrated data and wearables. For example, a user could walk 10,000 steps and get 500 PC Optimum points. Or they can keep a heart rate at 180 for 10 minutes and receive 250 rewards points.

“100% wearables are the future of this platform. You can imagine how you will connect a set of trackable activities and use loyalty to drive healthy activities.”

Doug Bryce

“100% that’s the future of this platform,” Bryce excitedly explains. “Think of simple things like wearables and step counters, then look further to different ranges of tools like connected blood pressure devices. You can imagine how you will connect a set of trackable activities and use loyalty to drive people to keep those readings within range.”

There’s certainly a future version of PC Health coming down the line that connects directly with a Fitbit device or an Apple Watch and streams data directly into the app. A huge chunk of people are already exercising, so they may as well get rewarded for it too. This kind of thinking can drive huge loyalty to the Loblaw banner and create massive value outside of the PC Health ecosystem. 

“People are now considering services through digital channels that they have not in the past,” says Bryce. “When you embed that wearable data and partner with really clinically credible associations, you can really drive outcomes.”

“The more you get people to try them, the more they engage. There can be some real positive changes in health.”