BRAMPTON, Ont. - Loblaw Companies Ltd. is expanding the launch of its mobile health and wellness app, a free digital tool the company says will help Canadians navigate the health-care system as the company further expands its pharmacy and health businesses.

The app comes amid an expansion of digital health technologies and increasing efforts by retailers to extend customer experience - and loyalty - beyond the traditional brick-and-mortar store.

In September, Loblaw subsidiary Shoppers Drug Mart Inc. spent $75 million on a minority stake in telemedicine company Maple Corp., which helps connect people with doctors and medical specialists using a smartphone or computer.

Shoppers Drug Mart president Jeff Leger said the PC Health app could become the hub of the company's health care offerings by seamlessly connecting users with pharmacists, dieticians, nurses and physicians.

“It's a digital front door for health care,” he said in an interview.

“We believe we have a strong public health-care system but it can sometimes be challenging to navigate. This is intended to help with that.”

The grocery and pharmacy retailer first launched the PC Health app in Atlantic Canada last month. It's now available to download in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta.

Loblaw plans to expand the app nationally over the coming months while also adding features such as virtual physician care and digital pharmacy access.

Leger said the PC Health app leverages its in-house expertise in health, nutrition and wellness to help connect users with information, support and access to different health professionals.

“Our view is that pharmacies over the next couple of years are going to play a greater role in the delivery of primary care in the community,” he said, noting that pharmacists are increasingly turned to for vaccinations, minor ailments and support with chronic illness.

The app provides access to registered nurses and dietitians via live chat. It also offers custom digital health programs that reward users with the company's PC Optimum points.

The programs range from nutrition programs and physical exercise to mental health and anxiety management.

The advice can include meal planning, where to find a local doctor or better understanding sleep habits.

For example, customers can fill out a health profile on the app and receive personalized recommendations. They can also set their own personal health goals, such as increasing physical activity, and sign up for a walking program. They would then gain points for completing their daily activity goals.

“We know that changing behaviour is not easy, especially in health care,” Leger said. “We think that adding some incentives with PC Optimum can help make small nudges towards healthier behaviour.”