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Zipnosis: Giant leap forward for retail health

BY Antoinette Alexander

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Convenient care industry pioneer Kevin Smith took a leap more than 10 years ago and helped create the successful nurse practitioner-staffed retail clinic concept. Today, the industry trailblazer is embarking on a new venture to further revolutionize access to health care. Enter Zipnosis.com.


“In a sense, it is doing triage. It’s almost functioning like an online advice source, and then it can also function as treatment, when it’s appropriate,” said Smith, who co-founded QuickMedx — now MinuteClinic. Prior to his current role as chief clinical officer of Zipnosis, Smith served as director of clinical informatics at MinuteClinic.


With patients increasingly turning to the Internet for medical information and the nation battling a physician shortage, Zipnosis — coupled with the evolving retail-based health clinics — may be the ideal prescription to help ease the overburdened U.S. healthcare system and move one step closer to consumer-oriented health care.


Furthermore, healthcare systems increasingly are looking for ways to respond to patients via e-communication, yet often lack effective tools. That’s a unique niche that Smith believes Zipnosis is ideally equipped to fill. In fact, Zipnosis teamed up in May 2010 with healthcare provider Park Nicollet Health Services in Minnesota and is looking to expand via partnerships with other health providers.


Zipnosis — which had about 1,800 patient visits since its May launch — is hoping to expand to 10 additional states by the end of 2011.


“As we move into accountable care organizations and the future of how healthcare reform is shaping up, I think more and more of these options will tease themselves out, and there will be opportunities for new ideas like this that fit into a [healthcare] system that really needs to be re-engineered,” noted Tine Hansen-Turton, executive director of the Convenient Care Association.


Unlike other telemedicine service providers, the Zipnosis interview process is asynchronous, meaning it is driven by a mediated form of communication in which the sender and receiver are not concurrently engaged in communication. How it works: The patient logs on to the Zipnosis site, answers a set of questions that mimic those that a healthcare provider would ask the patient and, based on the responses, goes to the next appropriate question. Once the patient completes the evaluation, a healthcare professional — a physician, nurse practitioner or physician assistant — receives a text message, and the patient receives a response within an hour with a recommendation.


Depending on the condition and the patient’s interview, there are three different outcomes:


The condition is determined to not be urgent and does not require a prescription, so a self-care recommendation is provided to the patient with detailed instructions on suggested OTCs, when to follow up with a physician and warning signs to look for;


If the patient meets the criteria for safe, appropriate online care, then he or she receives a recommendation from a clinician and, if necessary, a prescription is sent electronically to a pharmacy of the patient’s choice; or


The patient receives a referral — either automated or from a clinician — to visit a physician for further care. If the interview suggests a serious condition, the system immediately will notify the patient to visit a physician or urgent care facility, and he or she will not be charged a fee for using Zipnosis.


Like the early days of retail-based health clinics, the services offered by Zipnosis are limited to such minor, acute ailments as sinus infections, sore throats and bladder infections, as well as such conditions as acne and smoking cessation. Each “visit” is a flat fee of $25 paid via credit card or HSA/Health Savings Card. Patients can answer the set of questions anywhere, anytime using a computer, mobile phone or iPad. The same goes for healthcare professionals.


Smith, who has more than 25 years of healthcare experience, undoubtedly understands the importance of “appropriate” treatment, and stressed that Zipnosis uses evidence-based guidelines to ensure that treatment is safe and appropriate for online care. Patients can access their Zipnosis health record at any time and are encouraged to share it with their primary care provider.


With financial backing from private investors and a venture capital group, and a second round of funding in the works for second quarter 2011, Zipnosis clearly is on a growth path. “We are looking for additional provider partners [in other states], and we have had some physicians contact us and want to jump on board,” Smith said. “We really feel that for our provider partners there is an upside for using their marginal capacity to see more patients and to even conceivably draw patients to their practice.”

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Loyalty program under Montini’s tenure is a big plus for Rite Aid

BY DSN STAFF

CAMP HILL, Pa. — Tony Montini returned to Rite Aid just in time to help leverage what is becoming a very powerful Wellness+ loyalty card program that has cracked the code for the chain in terms of tying the front-end to the back bench by way of the patient. 


And while Montini returns to the retail ranks as SVP category management, he is well-prepared to make Wellness+ work gangbusters with the supplier community. His background is in corporate marketing with advertising agency Marc USA, where he was EVP and COO. 


Wellness+ launched nationally two months into Montini’s tenure. The scorecard thus far: 29 million members, 70% utilization across a front-end that realized a 1.3% comparable sales lift in November and 64% utilization across prescriptions filled (excluding New York and New Jersey). 


And all of that within the first eight months of the program. Bottom line: Wellness+ retains and attracts good customers, both on the front end and across the pharmacy.

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Pugh’s customer-centric approach boosts Walgreens’ momentum

BY DSN STAFF

DEERFIELD, Ill. — A veteran of Walmart and Tesco, Walgreens VP merchandising Bryan Pugh brought a more analytical and customer-targeted approach to front-end merchandising. His oft-stated mission: to oversee, in coordination with the company’s Customer Centric Retailing initiative and other renewal efforts, a more cost-effective and more compelling merchandising strategy.


“It goes without saying that we need to be smarter with our inventory dollars,” Pugh told Drug Store News. “There’s not a single retailer in the United States that’s worth their salt if they’re not working on increasing their turns and decreasing their stock days and inventory.”


Applying the analytical tools driving CCR, Pugh led a front-end makeover that pared thousands of slower-turning and redundant SKUs, beefed up new and expanding areas, and championed such initiatives as expanded fresh food assortments and beer and wine in targeted locations, a beauty aisle makeover and more private-brand items. The results speak for themselves. In recent months, Walgreens has regained sales and earnings momentum while shedding inventory costs.

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