Walgreen Co. has launched a hospital discharge services program that aims to improve transition of care and reduce readmission rates.

Walgreens, WellTransitions, hospital discharge services, transition of care, coordinated care program, hospital readmissions, patient readmission, patient readmission rates, outpatient pharmacy, Kermit Crawford, Walgreens pharmacist, Walgreens pharmacy staff, Sarasota Memorial Health Care System, Washington Adventist Hospital, Marion General Hospital, Spence Hudon, CVS Caremark, Dovetail Health, medication counseling, pharmacist care

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Walgreens program aids care transition from hospital

October 16th, 2012

DEERFIELD, Ill. – Walgreen Co. has launched a hospital discharge services program that aims to improve transition of care and reduce readmission rates.

Called WellTransitions, the coordinated care program comes as a new law effective Oct. 1 subjects thousands of hospitals nationwide to Medicare penalties for patient readmission rates that are too high, Walgreens said Tuesday.

WellTransitions is slated to be rolled out to facilities nationwide, including many of the more than 150 hospitals and health systems where Walgreens operates an outpatient pharmacy, the company said. The program is now available to patients at such providers as Sarasota Memorial Health Care System in Sarasota, Fla.; Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park, Md.; and Marion General Hospital in Marion, Ind.

Services offered through WellTransitions include a Walgreens pharmacist review of patients' prescriptions upon admission to the hospital and at discharge, as well as a check for potential interactions and a simplification of their medication regimen. Walgreens pharmacy staff also provide bedside delivery of medications the patient will need to take after discharge to the patient's room, along with medication education and instruction. Pharmacists, too, provide medication counseling to the patient and caregiver and work in tandem with the medical staff.

In addition, pharmacists conduct regular calls to follow up on patient progress, discuss their prescription regimen and answer any questions or concerns. Pharmacists also work with patients to ensure they've scheduled an appointment with their primary care doctor and to reinforce key self-care principles, such as checking their weight daily and reporting any significant fluctuations to their physician. The program also provides 24x7 pharmacist support over the phone or online.

"When a patient leaves the hospital with a new medication regimen, it can be overwhelming for both the individual and a caregiver," Kermit Crawford, president of pharmacy, health and wellness at Walgreens, said in a statement. "Readmissions can be costly for the patient as well as our health care system. Through this program, our pharmacists work closely with hospital staff to oversee medication therapies and to help make the discharge process smoother, providing the care patients need during as well as after being discharged."

Citing a PricewaterhouseCoopers study, Walgreens noted that preventable hospital readmissions cost the U.S. health care system about $25 billion per year. And according to a 2009 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, about one in five Medicare patients is readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of discharge.

Walgreens said WellTransitions has already helped reduce patient readmissions. According to Washington Adventist Hospital in Maryland, of its first 48 high-risk patients enrolled in the program, only three were readmitted within 30 days of discharge.

The drug chain and Sarasota Memorial Hospital also have collaborated to improve patient care through various programs since 2009. The hospital recently implemented a WellTransitions program in which more than 180 heart failure patients have participated. The program provides patient services at key points during the days following discharge, and hospital officials have seen positive results.

Spence Hudon, clinical manager of Sarasota Memorial’s inpatient heart failure unit, said the health system began working with Walgreens with the introduction of a bedside delivery program several years ago. The bedside service ensured hospitalized patients could get their medications in a timely manner and adhere to their prescription regimen after returning home.

"From that beginning, our relationship has grown to Walgreens participation in medication education and reconciliation, discharge phone calls, and calls to the patients later in the 30 days post-discharge for follow-up," Hudon said. "Walgreens has proven to be a reliable and helpful partner in our attempt to provide excellent care to our heart failure patients while preventing readmissions."

In a similar program announced in September 2011, CVS Caremark Corp. partnered with Dovetail Health, a provider of transitional care services, to help prevent hospital readmissions. Under the arrangement, Dovetail provides plan members whose pharmacy benefits are administered by CVS Caremark with in-home medication counseling conducted by a pharmacist care manager and focused on medication adherence and drug safety. The companies were slated to pilot the program early this year and roll it out to CVS Caremark pharmacy benefit management clients later in 2012.