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Study: Most physicians support employer weight-loss programs, unhealthy food regulations

BY Alaric DeArment

ARLINGTON, Va. — More than three-quarters of physicians think the federal government should regulate foods with unhealthy ingredients, while 79% say employers should fund weight-loss programs for employees, according to results of a survey presented Tuesday at a diabetes conference.

The survey, conducted by Joslin Diabetes Center and healthcare research firm WorldOne, included more than 150 endocrinologists and primary care physicians, and results were presented at Joslin’s Diabetes Innovation 2012 conference.

"These results are very important to us and our mission," Joslin executive director of diabetes innovation and global professional education Julie Brown said. "With Diabetes Innovation 2012, it’s vital that all stakeholders are aligned, and we understand beliefs and concerns that may derail progress toward a more effective system. if stakeholder groups’ concerns are not understood or ignored, we won’t realize the true cooperation we need to make any sustained, valuable improvement."

In addition to the 76% of respondents who supported federal regulations of unhealthy foods, 71% supported New York’s ban on sugary soft drinks larger than 16 oz. in public food venues. Meanwhile, 97% said individual health counseling has a powerful effect on the health of people with diabetes. Eighty-seven percent said more pharmaceutical options for the disease are needed, while 62% said devices like insulin pumps, monitors and implants and drug therapies are most likely to have the greatest near-term benefit to patients.

At the same time, there were significant differences between the responses of physicians and delegates to the conference. While 55% of delegates said pharmacists should be able to serve as primary care providers for people with diabetes, 15% of physicians said the same. Meanwhile, 70% of physicians said pharmaceutically assisted innovations are necessary for obesity management, compared with 45% of delegates. Seventeen percent of physicians said future screening would have a positive effect on clinical outcomes; 9% of delegates said the same.


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HR programs drive employee engagement

BY Antoinette Alexander

Employee engagement and customer experience. These are not just buzzwords or empty promises for Walgreens. 


For the human resources team within Walgreens, this means attracting, training and retaining the right talent, who not only will be actively engaged but who, in turn, will enhance the customer experience in stores, whether it be in pharmacy, beauty, fresh food or any other aspect of the business.


“Our vision [is] helping people get, stay and live well, and to further that we certainly need the right talent pool to be able to support all of the business’ strategies,” said Kathleen Wilson-Thompson, SVP and chief human resources officer at Walgreens. “The progress we’ve made over the last few years in the HR department was the product of true teamwork in action. We are very deliberate in driving change that supports our business and our leadership.” To help support this vision, Walgreens is bringing its pharmacists out from behind the counter so they can provide more counseling to patients and offer clinical services. To further enhance the customer experience, the retailer also is implementing Health Guides as part of its Well Experience concept rollout. These Health Guides are Walgreens team members who are armed with an iPad and are available to answer product and service questions, help customers navigate the store and their healthcare options, and sign up for health-related events. 


“With this increased demand on talent, we know that we need to further our technology, and so we’ve been partnering with [CIO] Tim Theriault’s team … and they are supporting us as we go through an HR transformation. We are also ensuring that we have technology to have a mobile work force because we are advancing our role in health care beyond just traditional pharmacy,” Wilson-Thompson said.


For example, as Walgreens was preparing to set up its new Well Experience stores in Indianapolis, it created a full training center that replicated a pharmacy in order to enable the pharmacists to work with the new technology, conduct practice consultations and engage in other key 
consumer experiences. 


To help drive employee engagement, Walgreens developed an internal quantitative and qualitative program to help discover new ways to drive greater engagement and better understand what is most important to its associates.


“We do have data that indicates that, year-over-year since we’ve had a focus on employee engagement, our most engaged managers have been able to grow total pharmacy sales in [their] stores: front-end sales, private-label sales and even total transactions,” Wilson-Thompson added.


Meanwhile, as the nation readies for the influx of some 32 million newly insured Americans under healthcare reform, Walgreens is taking steps to ensure it is ready for the transition. As part of the effort, Walgreens recently hosted its first Chief Human Resources Officers Summit on health care. The event brought together more than 20 organizations from across the country to engage in a roundtable discussion on healthcare reform. To better understand the role that Walgreens can play to curb healthcare costs and improve employee lives, the event included a tour of the Walgreens Healthy Living Center at Walgreens corporate campus in Deerfield, Ill. 


She noted that Walgreens also tracks accountability for health metrics and has a benefit design in place that incentivizes employees to use its Take Care Clinics, versus such higher-cost alternatives as emergency rooms, and to take a proactive role in living a healthier life through, for example, getting health screenings and immunizations.


“This year, we will be able to show … that we can affect an overall reduction in healthcare costs for those folks who have participated in all of our programs,” Wilson-Thompson added.


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Innovative technology streamlines shopping

BY Michael Johnsen

The way Walgreens is deploying technology through its stores may be futuristic, but it is no science fiction. It’s real innovation that is helping to drive its total transformation along so many areas of its business — and it’s being produced in real-time. For instance, last month, the company finished installing a new universal point-of-sale system across its entire store base; began the rollout of a common electronic medical health record platform that will be in all stores by 2013; and just this month introduced its new loyalty program, Balance Rewards, data, which will help inform many of the healthcare offerings currently in development. 


Leading this work for Walgreens is Tim Theriault, SVP and chief information officer. “Technology can enable a very good experience at a very low cost and allow our people to concentrate on the most important aspect, and that’s [taking care of] the patient,” he said. “All the interconnectivity required will happen automatically for them — for the patient as well as the providers — when necessary.”


In a wide-ranging discussion with DSN, Theriault outlined four key areas in which technology is helping to transform the Walgreens experience:


1. Walgreens’ new POS system completed in August — the servers driving that new system are cheaper, faster and have redundancies built in to prevent outages. In addition, the new system features enhanced security and the ability to support mobile devices and Walgreens’ new Balance Rewards loyalty program. 


2. Its next-generation data center will help feed consumer information at Walgreens, and will in turn help identify opportunities ranging from what works — and what doesn’t — on issues ranging from in-store merchandising to ideal site selection for new stores. It also includes HIPAA-compliant pharmacy data that can be shared with doctors and other practitioners on a patient’s care team, as approved by the patient. 


3. Making it easy for Walgreens healthcare practitioners to readily access health information without having to hand their patients a clipboard on every successive visit, Walgreens last month introduced a new component of its HealthCloud system. An electronic health record solution, called WellHealth EHR provided through Greenway Medical Technologies, is currently available in as many as 500 stores, with a chainwide rollout planned to be completed by fall 2013.

And like Walgreens’ new POS system, WellHealth EHR is scalable to support additional pharmacy, health and wellness services in the future, including integration with electronic prescribing and data exchange that tracks patients throughout the care continuum. “One of the things that we’re excited about at Walgreens is [that] health care is primarily regional and local, but we’re a national provider,” Theriault said. “So we want to make sure that we connect with hospitals and doctors electronically in the same way through e-prescribing around clinical formats. Being connected to the other elements of health care is fundamentally important to us.“


There’s also a scheduling functionality that has been made available to third-party vendors. The mobile app iTriage, which creates a “symptom-to-provider pathway” that users can use as a self-diagnosis tool, incorporates a scheduler functionality to allow customers to make an appointment at a nearby Take Care Clinic. That capability is currently being test-marketed in the Chicago and Denver markets. 


Walgreens is currently populating its HealthCloud with state-by-state regulations on administering vaccines. “We’re also offering the ability to send a physician notification letter and updating the state registry at the same time,” he said. 


4. The fourth element of Walgreens 2.0 is Cloud9, an employee productivity platform that facilitates a more efficient workflow across Walgreens’ employee base that supports a mobile work force. “We’re transforming everyone, from the corporate offices to the stores, to the data centers, to the distribution centers,” Theriault said. “Untethering is happening everywhere. It’s more of a mobile work force.”


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