Walgreens puts its money where its mouth is with World AIDS Day campaign

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT'S IMPORTANT — Pharmacy advocates are using every tool they can to spread the message that pharmacists bring a lot more than prescription services to the healthcare table. So how about a 341-ft. digital billboard looming above Times Square?

(THE NEWS: Walgreens launches high-impact push in support of World AIDS Day campaign. For the full story, click here)

Amid the scramble to implement a massive health-reform law and wrestle the out-of-control health cost spiral back to Earth, the drive by retail pharmacy to assert a more prominent role in the fractured, overwrought U.S. healthcare system is reaching a crescendo. Walgreens, as much as any pharmacy chain, is putting its money where its mouth is.

More specifically, the nation’s top drug chain is pouring more resources into high-profile community health endeavors. The goal: to reach more at-risk patients where they live, shop and work, and to field an army of well-trained patient-care specialists. And the fact that many of them also happen to dispense medicines as bench pharmacists is, at this stage of the clinical-care game, almost beside the point.

Walgreens is making a splash to highlight its partnership with the Greater Than AIDS advocacy organization and its growing arsenal of clinical capabilities for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. It’s heavily promoting those community health services via the massive digital board above its Times Square store, through a new signage and information campaign at more than 200 drug stores that cater heavily to HIV patients and online on two of its websites.

Walgreens already has provided additional training in helping patients live with HIV/AIDS to more than 800 of its pharmacists. Those professionals practice at Walgreens drug stores, medical centers and call centers; over the next year, the company promises to add another 150 locations offering special HIV/AIDS services.

The new alliance with the Greater Than Aids group — and the digital billboard campaign — was kicked off as part of World AIDS Day on Dec. 1. But Walgreens clearly has signaled that it is in this for the long haul: the company said it again will team up with Greater Than AIDS to support “HIV Take Action” Month next June.

At that time, the chain will mark the event with special promotions, and participating Walgreens pharmacies will offer in-store services — including HIV testing. Throughout 2011 Walgreens also will post photos submitted by everyday Americans that celebrate personal “deciding moments” in response to HIV/AIDS on its digital billboards in Times Square and Las Vegas, said president of pharmacy services Kermit Crawford.

It’s more than just a public service campaign, and it comes at a critical and hopeful time in the ongoing AIDS epidemic. Pharmaceutical companies now have some 100 new HIV and
 AIDS drugs and vaccines in the pipeline, according to the trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and it goes without saying that the successful management of AIDS and HIV depend on both a regimen of high-cost drugs and a high-touch, patient-centered approach to daily care.

Helping those patients continue leading healthy lives is a high calling, and the effort calls out for the kind of up-close-and-personal care that community and specialty pharmacy providers can provide. It’s hard to imagine a bigger stage on which such pharmacy retailers as Walgreens and others truly can demonstrate their value to community health networks across the country.

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