THE PHARMACY: Enter the ‘community health provider’

As the costs of primary care march steadily higher and patients endure ever-longer wait times to see a family physician, the need for accessible, cost-effective patient care alternatives has become both obvious and urgent. 

Enter Walgreens. Armed with new, time-saving 
pharmacy automation tools, a growing offsite-dispensing capability and an array of new adherence and disease-management services, the company heavily is promoting its pharmacists and in-store clinicians as the most cost-effective front-line resource for community-based patient care.

“The pharmacist,” asserted Walgreens president and CEO Greg Wasson in January, “can be the new community healthcare provider.” Added Kermit Crawford, president of Walgreens pharmacy services, “somebody has to fill that space, and there’s no one who offers that combination of convenience and affordable cost like Walgreens and its pharmacists.”

The company is pursuing the nation’s healthcare market on a broad front, wielding more than 70,000 health professionals — including retail and professional pharmacists and nurse practitioners. “Our in-store and worksite health clinics; our expanding network of home infusion services; our growing support to patients with diabetes and other complex chronic illnesses; and more than 7 million H1N1, seasonal flu shots and other vaccinations and immunizations last year — these are all examples of Walgreens’ expanding role as a community-based pharmacy health-and-wellness healthcare provider,” chairman Alan McNally told shareholders in January.

To that end, Walgreens has amped up its efforts in disease management, patient education, prevention and oversight, including:

The chain has certified more than 26,000 of its pharmacists to provide flu shots — up from 16,000 at the start of last year’s flu season — and is by far the nation’s leading nongovernment provider of influenza immunizations, with a stated goal of providing 15 million vaccinations before the end of the current flu season;

Walgreens has rolled out new diabetes management programs, including Dimensions and Walgreens Optimal Wellness, demonstrating conclusively that when its pharmacists engage with diabetic patients to improve their adherence and self-management, those patients show improved blood-glucose levels and generate health costs savings. “Walgreens recognized that with its unrivaled ability to reach patients where they both work and live ... and understanding of the power of face-to-face interactions on health outcomes, we had a unique opportunity to help patients learn how to live healthier and better lives,” explained the company’s chief medical officer, Cheryl Pegus; and

  • The company launched Walgreens Way to Well Commitment program in early February, a new effort to improve Americans’ health through early detection and disease prevention. The initiative included free blood-pressure screenings daily throughout February at all Walgreens pharmacies and Take Care Clinics, with other services to follow.

“Healthcare reform is happening regardless” of what happens in Congress, Crawford said. In line with the change, he added, “we are well positioned ... to have our pharmacists practicing at a higher level in their profession” by providing “preventive-type services” at retail.

At its pharmacies nationwide, Walgreens also has launched a new “GO 90” drive to promote its 90-day prescription option to health plans and payers. “The consumers have voted,” Wasson said. “We’re going to provide it. And as consumers ... value it more and more, the prescriptions plans are going to have to offer it.”

Indeed, Crawford said, “patients are coming to us and asking about 90-day.” And plan payers, he added, are becoming more aware that the 90-day script option actually drives medication adherence and improved health by giving patients more choice.

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