DEERFIELD, Ill. — Walgreens pharmacists are on the frontlines of a new transition of care program, WellTransitions, which brings hospitals and health systems together with Walgreens in a coordinated care model designed to reduce readmission rates and overall healthcare costs while improving patient health outcomes and medication adherence, Walgreens announced Tuesday. The WellTransitions program is being rolled out as thousands of hospitals nationwide face possible penalties from Medicare for patient readmission rates that are too high, under a new law that took effect Oct. 1.
“When a patient leaves the hospital with a new medication regimen, it can be overwhelming for both the individual and a caregiver,” stated Kermit Crawford, Walgreens president of pharmacy, health and wellness. “Readmissions can be costly for the patient as well as our healthcare system. Through this program, our pharmacists work closely with hospital staff to oversee medication therapies and to help make the discharge process smoother, providing the care patients need during — as well as after — being discharged.”
According to Washington Adventist Hospital in Maryland, of its first 48 high-risk patients enrolled in WellTransitions, only three were readmitted within 30 days of discharge.
Preventable hospital readmissions cost the U.S. healthcare system approximately $25 billion per year, Walgreens stated, citing a Pricewaterhouse Coopers’ Health Research Institute study. And according to a 2009 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, nearly one in five Medicare patients is re-hospitalized within 30 days of discharge.
WellTransitions is now available to patients at a growing number of locations, including Sarasota Memorial Health Care System, Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park, Md., and Marion General Hospital in Marion, Ind. As many hospitals and medicals centers place a greater emphasis on reducing patient readmissions, Walgreens aims to broadly roll out the program to other facilities throughout the U.S., including many of the more than 150 hospitals and health systems where Walgreens operates an outpatient pharmacy, the company stated.
The WellTransitions program offers a number of services, including:
- Medication review – pharmacists review patients’ prescriptions upon admission to the hospital and at discharge, and check for potential interactions and simplification of medication regimen;
- Bedside medication delivery – Walgreens pharmacy staff member delivers medication the patient will need to take after discharge to the patient’s room, and offers medication education and instruction;
- Patient counseling – pharmacists provide medication counseling to both the patient and caregiver and work in close communication with the medical staff;
- Regularly-scheduled follow-up calls – pharmacists conduct regular calls to follow up on patient progress, discuss regimen and answer any questions or concerns; and
- 24/7 pharmacist support – pharmacy staff is available to answer patient questions 24/7, either over the phone or online.
Pharmacists also work with patients to ensure they’ve scheduled an appointment with their primary care physician and to reinforce important self-care principles, such as checking their weight daily and reporting any significant fluctuations to their doctor.
Walgreens and Sarasota Memorial Hospital have collaborated to improve patient care through various programs since 2009. The hospital recently implemented a WellTransitions program, in which more than 180 heart failure patients have participated. The program provides patient services at key points during the critical first days following discharge, and while outcomes data is not yet available, hospital officials have recognized a trend of positive results.
“From that beginning, our relationship has grown to Walgreens participation in medication education and reconciliation, discharge phone calls, and calls to the patients later in the 30 days post-discharge for follow-up,” stated Spence Hudon, clinical manager of Sarasota Memorial’s inpatient heart failure unit. “Walgreens has proven to be a reliable and helpful partner in our attempt to provide excellent care to our heart failure patients while preventing readmissions.”