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Men’s Health article shows pharmacy’s importance to public at large

BY Alaric DeArment

In a new article in Men’s Health magazine, pharmacists are listed among a number of other health and wellness professionals dubbed "health detectives," and seeing them about certain health problems is described as an alternative to seeing the doctor.

To regular readers of DSN, the idea of pharmacists as the face of neighborhood health care or physician extender is old news. But it’s still a relatively new concept to the public at large, and that’s why the Men’s Health article is such a big deal and why it got a response from National Association of Chain Drug Stores’ president and CEO Steven Anderson.

Groups like the NACDS and National Community Pharmacists Association have been pushing pharmacists as a source of health information for a long time now. In recent years, NACDS Foundation president Kathleen Jaeger has become an evangelist for the idea of pharmacy as the most accessible and visible part of the healthcare system, appearing in national media to tout the benefits of pharmacy.

Another significant thing about the article is that it’s directed toward men. Studies have shown for years that men visit the doctor less frequently than women, for reasons ranging from fear of doctors to male pride or a sense that it isn’t needed. This can allow health problems to go undiagnosed and get worse if they’re not detected early. For that reason, the ability of pharmacists to offer services like blood-pressure screening, routine vaccinations and general healthcare information is especially important.

In addition to some of the services traditionally associated with physicians, pharmacists also provide many unique services crucial to the proper functioning of the healthcare system, including medication therapy management and others to ensure that patients take their drugs the way they’re supposed to. In this capacity, they further serve an important role in extending the physician’s reach and ensuring that patients receive the care they need.

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Walgreens recognized for HIV Centers of Excellence program

BY Michael Johnsen

MINNETONKA, Minn.  — Walgreens on Monday received the third annual UnitedHealthcare “Shining Light: Leadership in Corporate Social Responsibility” award for excellence in social responsibility.

Walgreens was recognized for its HIV Centers of Excellence program, which provides community-based support to people living with HIV/AIDS by creating more than 700 HIV-specialized pharmacies that create vital links among patients, care providers, communities and health departments across the United States and Puerto Rico. 

“We were looking at ways to address the needs of patients specifically related to HIV, above and beyond a typical retail pharmacy,” stated Glen Pietrandoni, senior manager for HIV/AIDS and hepatitis pharmacy services at Walgreens. 

The HIV Centers of Excellence program began with 10 markets in 22 stores in 2010 and has been operating and growing since its inception. Today, more than 700 of these specialized Walgreens locations reach nearly 90% of the HIV population in the United States, the retailer noted.   

The award was announced at UnitedHealthcare’s 2013 Annual Accounts National Customer Forum. Kate Rubin, UnitedHealth Group’s VP social responsibility, presented the award and a check for $25,000 to Walgreens’ charity of choice, AIDS United.

“We applaud Walgreens for its commitment to improving care and outcomes for people living with HIV and AIDS,” Rubin said. “The company is having a real impact on public health, and its pursuit of better health for individuals and communities sets a standard of excellence, showing the impact large organizations can have when focused on an important issue.”

In support of National HIV Testing Day on June 27, Walgreens and Greater Than AIDS, a coalition of public and private sector partners united in response to the domestic AIDS epidemic, teamed up with health departments and local AIDS organizations across the country to provide free HIV testing from June 27-29 at select Walgreens stores across the country. 

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Pharmacy Xs and Os will extend beyond front end and back-bench thanks to ACA and Balance Rewards

BY Michael Johnsen

Though Walgreens reported an earnings gain of 85 cents per share, that fell short of Wall Street expectations of 91 cents per share. Subsequently, Walgreens’ stock dropped from $48.05 before the earnings release to $44.17 at week’s end. 

But that’s a story for day traders. Outside of the numbers, Walgreens outlined a three-point plan to boost front-end performance going forward. Meanwhile, several industry trends across pharmacy is helping to drive business higher behind the bench. So what happens if Walgreens not only continues its earnings growth trajectory, but actually beat Wall Street expectations next time?

A few Wall Street analysts reduced their expectations going forward, suggesting that pharmacy tailwinds today may peter out by quarter’s end — a generic wave that peaked earlier in the fiscal year may translate into margin pressure going into fiscal 2014; unless the cough, cold and flu season produces another record year of illness, comparisons this fall will be difficult; and the boost behind any win-back of Express Scripts patients is finite and soon to be anniversaried. 

But don’t count Walgreens out of beating out even the most robust of expectations just yet. There’s a longer-term play in motion — Walgreens’ Balance Reward loyalty program. That program reaches its one-year anniversary in September, and going forward from that date, Walgreens will have a new comparison tool to sharpen promotional strategies for maximum efficiency. And judging from Walgreens’ shift in strategy from loyalist acquisition to loyalist retention, expect the chain to identify escalating synergies between health, beauty and wellness and corresponding healthcare services. 

The third initiative across the front end that Walgreens highlighted was localization, and that is another facet that will be better informed by Walgreens’ Balance Reward program. While the reward program will be able to better define success vs. not meeting expectations, the reward program will not be able to pinpoint what should and shouldn’t go into stores at the local level. But Walgreens has a team of savvy merchants coupled with a culture of experimentation that will take care of identifying tomorrow’s opportunities. The Balance Reward program may then be deployed as a chisel to further refine local offerings. 

The benefit behind the Balance Reward loyalty program will likely be further magnified with the final implementations of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2014. Beyond the same-store sales comparisons that has historically provided guidance to a retailer’s health, what is the metric that successfully measures Walgreens’ outreach to employers? Or what is the metric that successfully measures Walgreens’ benefit from participating in Accountable Care Organizations? 

Developing best practices and building proven case studies in what the full presence of Walgreens — pharmacy, Take Care Health and worksite operations — will bring to bear on lowering an employer’s healthcare cost will become a significant factor in winning the patient race for next year. And winning patients to manage, not scripts, will be the name of the pharmacy game then as outcomes-based medicine and an emphasis on prevention becomes more commonplace.

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