Walgreens expanding scope of retail pharmacy experience and services heading into fiscal 2014

DEERFIELD, Ill. — In its quest to own health and daily living, Walgreens achieved several key milestones since the beginning of fiscal 2013. In addition to augmenting the customer experience across more than 500 Well Experience stores and 12 flagship locations — or what Walgreens president and CEO Greg Wasson characterized as "the ultimate wellness store" — Walgreens entered into several arrangements that will help catapult the retail pharmacy chain from a base of a prescription drug provider to the realm of becoming a respected healthcare provider, where Walgreens delivers to its healthcare partners more efficient health care in a retail setting. 

Walgreens posted a sales gain of 0.8% for the fiscal year ended Aug. 31, reaching a record $72.2 billion and filling a record 821 million prescriptions, helping boost its share of the retail pharmacy market to 19.1%.

(For complete financial results, read: Walgreens reaches 19.1% prescription market share on banner year generating overall sales of $72.2 billion)

In an effort to both enhance the in-store customer experience and the solutions Walgreens can bring to employer and payer partners, Walgreens is focused in four areas, Wasson told analysts Tuesday morning: "Improving customer value; providing innovative products and services; developing a systematic, localized offering; and designing the most relevant network and formats."

With regard to owning health and daily living, Walgreens in the past year enrolled more than 85 million customers into its Balance Rewards loyalty program, which celebrated its first year on the market in mid-September. "The program has become the fastest-growing loyalty program in the world," Wasson told analysts. And as many as two-thirds of all front-end purchases currently involve use of the Balance Rewards loyalty card. 

The company noted that Balance Rewards members can participate in additional health-related activities and goal tracking to earn more points through walking, running and weight-management goals that can be logged and tracked through Steps with Balance Rewards. It's an example of how Walgreens can help incentivize healthier behaviors through the natural course of doing business. For employers and provider partners, directing their covered into this kind of organically-driven environment of better health choices may pay dividends in improving health and preventing hospital stays. 

American consumers got their first taste of what Walgreens' strategic partnership with Alliance Boots means at the store level. Walgreens in the past year launched the beauty powerhouse brand Boots No7 for women across its flagship locations and throughout the Phoenix market. And Boots No7 products for men has launched nationwide as well. 

With its recent acquisition of 76 North Carolina Kerr Drug stores, Walgreens will extend its vision into a market already well-versed in what value a progressive pharmacy operator can bring to the health marketplace. "We're very comfortable our mission, and our vision is going to continue with our partners [at] Walgreens," noted Kerr Drug CEO Tony Civello in an interview with DSN

During fiscal 2013, Walgreens also completed its acquisition of the USA Drug chain.

But Walgreens isn't stopping at wowing customers — they're wowing healthcare providers and employer partners, too. "We are only at the very beginning of the next leg of our company's journey," Wade Miquelon, Walgreens EVP, CFO and president, international, told investors. "It's a journey that can put us at the epicenter of delivering better healthcare outcomes in the United States and abroad, make everyday living a little bit better and change the paradigm of how we work with large global suppliers … to create value."

A little less than one month ago, Walgreens announced a long-term partnership to bring access to Theranos’ new lab testing service to retail. "[This is] another innovation in pharmacy healthcare," Wasson said. "This service is currently available in our Palo Alto, Calif. store, and we have plans to expand later this year." As the service becomes available through Theranos Wellness Centers inside Walgreens stores, consumers will be able to access less invasive and more affordable clinician-directed lab testing. 

Walgreens rebranded its 398 Take Care clinics as Healthcare Clinics at Walgreens, better representing the retail clinic operation's suite of offerings, which has expanded to include a chronic care assessment and treatment management to its menu of preventive and acute care services. 

Most recently, Walgreens Healthcare Clinic formed a multi-year agreement with healthcare technology company Inovalon to provide Inovalon’s data-driven encounter support platform, Electronic Patient Assessment Solution Suite (ePASS), within Healthcare Clinic at select Walgreens. The partnership with Inovalon represents another advancement for the convenient care industry as nurse practitioners are being armed with the power of analytics to provide a higher level of individualized care to patients. 

Walgreens' focus on the Medicare Part D market has netted an increase of 120 basis points in Medicare Part D business, outpacing the industry, Wasson noted. 

And Walgreens has augmented its specialty pharmacy footprint. "To improve the experience, we offer specialty customers, we launched an alliance this year with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to offer industry-leading pharmacy services to patients through CF Services," Wasson said. "We're also improving support to specialty patients by providing more access to limited-distribution drugs for cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions treated by specialty drugs," he said. "The specialty pipeline is robust, and this year we gained access to 21 new limited-distribution drugs." 

In the past year, Walgreens and Express Scripts launched Smart90 Walgreens, a new option for Express Scripts clients interested in 90-day prescription drug programs that drive lower costs and improve health outcomes for people with chronic diseases. Plan sponsors that choose to include Walgreens as part of the Smart90 program for their pharmacy benefit will provide their members who have chronic conditions the choice to receive 90-day supplies of maintenance medications through home delivery from Express Scripts or directly at a Walgreens retail pharmacy for the same co-payment. 

For Walgreens fourth-quarter and year-end results, click here.

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