Oprah gives Wag’s diabetes campaign big boost

Oprah speaks with cardiothoracic surgeon, TV-show host and author Dr. Oz about “America’s silent killer,” diabetes.

DEERFIELD, Ill. —The impact Oprah Winfrey can have on book sales has become a thing of legend: The books she recommends on her show routinely shoot up the best-seller lists. So when the TV talk-show megastar devoted an entire episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” to the prevention and treatment of diabetes Feb. 4—and pointed viewers to a nationwide free diabetes-testing campaign underway at Walgreens—did the show spur a similar stampede to the chain’s drug stores?

Apparently, yes, Walgreens officials said—at least in the immediate aftermath of the show. Tens of thousands of patients flocked to the company’s stores after the show aired to take advantage of free blood-glucose testing at all Walgreens 24-hour stores and Take Care Clinics nationwide. The program was extended to many other Walgreens stores through Feb. 18, and at all 356 of the chain’s in-store Take Care Clinics through the end of the month.

Walgreens’ diabetes-testing effort involved “interaction with our pharmacists and Take Care nurse practitioners, and the many tools and resources Walgreens offers,” said Kermit Crawford, EVP pharmacy services. The campaign marked the second time in four months that Walgreens offered free blood-glucose testing “as part of an ongoing effort to heighten diabetes awareness nationwide,” Walgreens spokesman Jim Cohn explained.

Spurring the effort: the near-epidemic growth of the disease. Over the past decade, the number of diabetes cases nationwide is up 90%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, making it the fastest-growing disease in the United States.

On Feb. 5, the day after she mentioned the free Walgreens testing program on her show, Oprah’s influence was immediately apparent. Said Cohn, “We had done diabetes events in November, but had not partnered with a show with the power and influence of Oprah. The first day after the show, we saw more than 80,000 people come in for testing. At the November event, which ran over a couple weeks in fewer locations, we did about 80,000 tests over the whole course of the program.”

“It’s been a very successful initiative—a sweet spot for us in terms of heightening awareness of diabetes and disease prevention,” he told Drug Store News.

More than 1,700 Walgreens pharmacies and clinics participated in the event “on the first day after Oprah,” Cohn said. “After that, we identified…about 500 stores a day to deliver the service.”

As expected, he added, the flow of patients to Walgreens testing sites tapered off somewhat. Nevertheless, the chain was able to provide free diabetes testing in February at locations that were within 30 miles of 90% of the population.

“For those who tested at risk for diabetes, we provided pharmacist counseling right there, and told them to contact their physician,” Cohn said. “A couple of customers tested so high they went right from our store to the [emergency room].”

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