‘No-brainer’: Woolies muscles into telehealth

Retail giant Woolworths is muscling into virtual healthcare by making telehealth appointments with doctors, naturopaths and dietitians available through its wellness platform, HealthyLife.

Patients will be able to log on to HealthyLife and make a same-day booking with a general practitioner via a partnership with ASX-listed digital health company Global Health.

Woolworths-backed HealthyLife has been focused on growing its holistic healthcare platform over the past 18 months.

Users will be connected to a third-party platform featuring doctors across the country who have availability in their schedules for virtual consultations. Bulk-billing is not available for the service, and a 15-minute doctor’s appointment costs $45.

Bookings are also available with an accredited dietitian or nutritionist for $115, while virtual naturopath consultations are free.

The move to connect consumers with virtual healthcare providers is another step in Woolworths’ foray into the health and wellness sector.

The retail giant launched the HealthyLife platform in 2021, with a goal of creating health content and selling nutrition and wellness products. The group extended its reach into the health space at the end of last year in a deal with independent chemist group SuperPharmacy, which involved SuperPharmacy’s bricks-and-mortar stores being rebadged under the “HealthyLife Pharmacy” brand.

Ananth Sarathy heads Woolworths-backed start-up HealthyLife.

HealthyLife managing director Ananth Sarathy said that giving access to telehealth bookings through the site was a big leap for the business.

“When we realised what we could do in this space in regard to accessibility, it was a no-brainer. The pitch wrote itself, if you like,” he said.

However, the move has caught the attention of pharmacy and GP industry groups that have warned against relying on direct-to-consumer telehealth services, which they say can compromise patient care.

“These services put the onus on patients to know their history and inform their usual GP and other specialists of what medicines, diagnoses, or advice they have been given,” Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Dr Nicole Higgins said.

“There is a place for telehealth as a complement to in-person care. However, to ensure quality and continuity of care, it is important for these services to be provided by the patient’s usual GP or practice.”

A spokesman for the Pharmacy Guild of Australia also said it was monitoring Woolworths’ focus on the sector closely, highlighting that most patients live close enough to a pharmacy to not have to rely on delivery for prescriptions.

But Sarathy said the group’s virtual consultations were not designed to replace in-person consultations, but rather provide another option for times when users can’t access other care.

“We know that there are many reasons why patients may need to speak with a real GP via phone or video call. For example, when they are not physically able to leave the house, for children’s health advice, or simply because they cannot access their regular doctor,” he said.

“We hope our telehealth offering helps bridge the gap in those moments when customers need fast and convenient access to a health practitioner.”

Woolworths and fellow retail giant Wesfarmers have been focused on expanding their healthcare offers in recent years. Both companies have lobbied takeover offers for Priceline operator Australian Pharmaceutical Industries. Wesfarmers ultimately bought the business in a deal worth more than $770 million.

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