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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The vision: Walgreens wants to ‘own well’
Talk about a bold retail vision. Walgreens president and CEO Greg Wasson said the nation’s top pharmacy retailer wants nothing less than to “own well.”
He’s serious. Owning “well” — or, put another way, becoming the nation’s top retail resource for pharmacy and health-and-wellness services and products — is the kind of declaration few retail pharmacy executives would dare utter. But Wasson isn’t running just any drug store chain. He’s in charge of a re-engineered, 110-year-old retail pharmacy and health behemoth with more than 8,000 “points of care” around the United States, a clearly revitalized mission and store base, and a driving goal: to become the nation’s first fully integrated, nationwide provider of products and services for health, wellness and everyday needs.
At Walgreens’ annual meeting in January, Wasson and other top leaders laid out their vision for a company nearing the culmination point of a massive, two-year transformation. Walgreens, Wasson told shareholders, aims to be nothing less than the “first choice for health and daily living needs … [for] everyone in America.”
It’s a far cry from the stick-to-the-retail-basics “hedgehog” strategy that defined the company for decades, and it’s as bold an assertion as declaring that the company wants to “own well.” But Walgreens has spent decades and poured billions into its pursuit of coast-to-coast market penetration, and more recently into creating a formidable presence within the U.S. workplace. “We are on the front lines of health care with [more than] 70,000 healthcare service providers and growing,” Wasson said. “We have [more than] 8,000 points of care across the country. What we are building is the most complete national network of integrated healthcare providers and locations in the country.”
If Walgreens can achieve a true integration of all those providers and locations, it will wield a powerful arsenal. Decades of aggressive organic store growth — supplemented by a series of savvy acquisitions targeting the best regional chains — have given the company a dense network of 7,670 drug stores operating in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, at least one of which is within 3 miles of more than 6-of-every-10 Americans. What’s more, the chain has paid dearly to put its stores on “the best retail corners in America,” to quote chairman Alan McNally, making Walgreens “No. 1 or 2 in 215 markets across the country,” McNally added.
The network also includes more than 100 Walgreens pharmacies in hospitals and community care centers; some 350 in-store Take Care Clinics with an expanding menu of ambulatory care services; a powerful presence in specialty pharmacy, oncology, home infusion and other high-touch medical services; and more than 380 clinics operating within the employee workplace, some 40 of which include pharmacies.
Combine that unrivaled retail health presence with the ongoing revolution occurring at the front end of the stores as Walgreens pursues its Customer Centric Retailing initiative, and you have a company poised, in Wasson’s words, to exploit “the convergence of two great industries, retail and health care. Frankly, that trend is good for us, because we are located right at the intersection of retail and health care,” he said.
It’s no accident that more of the nation’s frayed healthcare system is moving into the retail space. Roiled by reform and hammered by unsustainable cost increases for health delivery, a growing shortage of primary care physicians and a funding crisis in state and federal coffers, the health system is turning increasingly to such lower-cost, patient-accessible providers as pharmacists and clinic-based nurse practitioners for front-line care.
Walgreens has transformed itself to align with that titanic shift. Its Power initiative to centralize dispensing functions and other efforts is aimed at freeing its pharmacists for more patient care and medication therapy management activities, and the chain has become the nation’s top nongovernment provider of flu immunizations.
With that realignment has come a reordering of priorities. Walgreens has cut its annual store-expansion rate to about 3%, from a peak of roughly 9% in fiscal 2008, and is “focused on making the 7,600 stores we already have more valuable, productive and relevant to customers and patients in satisfying more and more of their health and daily living needs,” according to McNally.
The effort has borne fruit. In line with efforts to make its stores and merchandise mix more productive, the company has whacked expenses and moved back into record-setting sales and earnings territory.
Given Walgreens’ recent strong earnings momentum and same-store sales growth, Wall Street has applauded the shift, although one retail analyst, Jack Russo of Edward Jones and Co., warned that Walgreens already has “over-saturated the U.S. marketplace” with its once-torrid store-construction program. More typical of recent comments is that of Meredith Adler of Barclays Capital, who noted that Walgreens is doing “a very good job” of managing its expenses and showing “a discipline about pretty much everything [it does] that was not there before” as the company cuts back on profit-draining promotions and progresses on its billion-dollar inventory-reduction campaign.
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Walgreens might want to stop selling cigarettes in that case.
Savient announces executive appointments
EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Savient Pharmaceuticals announced changes to its management team as it gears up for the commercial launch of its chronic gout treatment.
The drug maker appointed Louis Ferrari as its SVP corporate development, Christine Mikail as SVP and Stephen Davies as chief information officer and group VP.
Savient said the new additions to its executive team will strengthen the company as it globally launches Krystexxa (pegloticase), which received regulatory approval from the Food and Drug Administration last September as a chronic gout treatment for adult patients refractory to conventional therapy.
Louis Ferrari, a pharmaceutical industry veteran, joins Savient from Centocor Ortho Biotech, where he served as VP oncology and nephrology, sales and marketing, responsible for sales of Procrit and Doxil. At Savient, he will be responsible for all commercial activities in North America.
Christine Mikail, who served as VP, general counsel and secretary for ImClone Systems, will be responsible for all of Savient’s business development activities and strategic planning, including the initiative to launch Krystexxa globally.
Stephen Davies served as VP information technology at ImClone Systems before joining Savient, where he was responsible for developing an IT approach to enable international expansion and improved infrastructure security. In his role at Savient, Davies will be responsible for building all global information systems support for the Krystexxa launch.
All three executives will report to Savient CEO John Johnson, who recently joined the company from Eli Lilly, where he was president of its oncology unit.
"We are pleased to welcome Louis, Christine and Stephen to Savient," Johnson said. "This is an exciting time for Savient, and these are three key additions that will help make for a successful commercial launch of Krystexxa. Today’s appointments will augment our already strong team of talented executives and employees, all of whom are committed to bringing this life-changing therapy to adult patients suffering from chronic gout refractory to conventional therapy. I look forward to working closely with Louis, Christine and Stephen and the entire Savient team as we embark on this next phase in Savient’s history."
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