Technology, self-care lower healthcare cost
Health is what you make of it. And judging from a recent public meeting held by the Food and Drug Administration, health is about to be made a lot less expensive as the agency explores ways to expand which therapy categories can be made self-selection- and self-care-friendly through communication or diagnostic technology in conjunction with a consultation with a retail healthcare professional.
And that’s thanks to a number of factors, including, but not limited to, advancements in communication technology (there’s an app for that) and improved functionality in a point-of-care kiosk, such as the SoloHealth kiosk pictured here.
That techno-clinical marriage may be a lot closer to producing a viable switch candidate than you might think. The technology already exists. All it’s going to take to really get this new paradigm under way is that first spark. That’s when the business of over-the-counter medicines really begins to take off.
Flu season wreaks havoc on suppliers
It was the cough, cold and flu season that wasn’t. The percentage of patient visits on account of influenza-like illnesses never eclipsed the 2.4% baseline that typically marks the beginning and end of a flu season. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the closest the 2011-2012 flu season came to materializing was the week ended March 17, when 2.384% of all office visits were attributed to ILI symptoms nationwide.
According to IMS Consumer Health, the South Atlantic region had seen the greatest decline in ILI rates through March 31 as compared with last season, down 80.5%. That decline in ILI rates wasn’t as pronounced in the Pacific region or the West North Central region, however.
The never-materialized 2011-2012 flu season not only impacted quarterly results across many of the pharmacy retailers, but that impact also may extend into next season.
“General respiratory from a flu perspective [was down this year and crested] significantly much later than normal,” said Scott Hanslip, IMS Consumer Health director of sales. “You would normally see some activity rising in the Thanksgiving time period, but you didn’t see any lift. It was extremely flat throughout most of the season until just recently.”
In the past, the season following a particularly slow influenza season had meant significant excess in cold remedy inventory throughout a retailer’s supply chain.
Retailers would typically buy heavy at the top of a season, when incidence was low, and look for an exit strategy for that excess inventory just as a season was peaking in the first few months of a new year. After a down season, any significant excess in inventory was held over to the fall when they wouldn’t buy as heavy as they did in the prior year.
That kind of ebb-and-flow buying process wreaked havoc among production flow plans for suppliers.
“[But] you don’t have to do like we did in the old days, which is load up and hope [for a strong season],” Hanslip said. Best practices for managing cold remedy inventory entail maintaining a steady base throughout the year, and triggering order and replenishment as illness trends across a region.
Career drivers target of health programs
Several health-and-wellness programs targeting professional drivers have been gaining traction in the past few months. And for the consumer packaged goods industry, professional drivers represent a crucial cog in the whole supply chain. But it’s a cog that happens to be heavily indexed across many chronic disease states (e.g., obesity, diabetes, heart health) — and for a simple reason. There just aren’t that many healthy choices for those drivers putting the hammer down on the big road.
According to statistics published by the Heavy Duty Trucking trade journal, as many as half of all long-haul drivers smoke tobacco; 28% suffer from hypertension; 25% had high cholesterol; 10% had diabetes mellitus; and almost 15% had sleep apnea. And only 58% are covered by health insurance.
As many as 55% of truck drivers are obese, compared with 33% of U.S. men, and the life expectancy of a commercial driver is 16 years shorter than the norm, the trade journal reported, referencing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Reaching this population represents an opportunity for community pharmacists and clinics to close an important gap in health care with an at-risk population that numbers in excess of 3.5 million. “But it’s not just the 3.5 million drivers,” noted Bob Perry, president of Rolling Strong, one of several organizations making a concerted effort to reach drivers with health information. “It’s the 3.5 million drivers plus their [families].”
Rolling Strong has teamed with several national healthcare-fused companies. Kroger pharmacy is the preferred provider for on-site health screenings, for example. Kroger pharmacists provide on-site biometric readings for drivers at Rolling Strong’s trucking clients and also on the road throughout their truck- friendly Kroger stores. Rolling Strong and Kroger also are working together to embrace professional drivers and their families by creating wellness educational materials designed specifically to help them stay healthy where they live — on the road.
The Healthy Trucking Association of America last month launched its HTAA Driver Vitality Program in partnership with the Vitality Group. “So many ‘wellness programs’ are really just weight-loss diet plans,” said Bill Gordon, HTAA executive director. “[The Driver Vitality Program] is a universal platform that all drivers can use — an industry standard that can benefit every driver and every fleet.”
In addition to its health-and-wellness program, HTAA this past season partnered with Walgreens on improving professional driver access to immunizations in communities across the country, whether that be through one of Walgreens’ points of care or at a fleet-sponsored, on-site flu clinic managed by Walgreens clinicians.
And the Truckload Carriers Association earlier this year partnered with Lindora Clinic on a weight-loss competition across the industry. Prizes will be awarded in May to the fleet and individual achieving the greatest percentages of weight loss. “For the past year, we’ve been increasing our emphasis on health in an effort to educate our members about the negative effects that obesity, sleep apnea and other medical conditions are having on the trucking industry’s work force,” stated Chris Burruss, TCA’s president.
In addition to partnering with Kroger, Rolling Strong has relationships with Snap Fitness, a 24-hour fitness center franchise with more than 1,200 locations nationwide. Rolling Strong soon will have 24-hour facilities in many Pilot Flying J travel centers. And the health-and-wellness program provider has partnered with Bayer Healthcare on providing diabetes education and meters. Rolling Strong also is exploring a partnership with Healthy Vending Management Co. on placing vending machines stocked with healthier choices across many of the truck stops and travel centers across the nation.