DEERFIELD, Ill. — In recognition of his leadership in a rapidly changing industry, the editors of Chain Drug Review have named Walgreen Co. senior vice president of pharmacy Kermit Crawford the Chain Drug Pharmacy Executive of the Year.
Crawford is helping transform Walgreens’ approach to the retail pharmacy business, moving from a focus on dispensing product to more emphasis on the pharmacist’s role as a health care provider.
“The practice of pharmacy has to change significantly from what has been a more transactional and product-focused approach to one that is more patient-friendly and outcomes-oriented,” Crawford says. “By serving as real, front-line health care providers, our pharmacists will have ability to change behavior or actually lower health care costs. And by doing so, they will play a significant role in changing our business.”
To many in the chain drug industry, the business has to change because a number of trends — including the promotion of mail-order pharmacy by third-party payers and pharmacy benefits managers (PBMs) — stand to turn traditional pharmacy services into commodities judged only by their price.
Walgreens aims to change that dynamic. “One thing that the mail-order pharmacies and the PBMs cannot replace is the face-to-face interaction that our patients have with our pharmacists on a day-to-day basis,” Crawford notes.
Research has shown that patients adhere to their medication regimens better when they interact regularly with a pharmacist. That is a tangible value that pharmacists provide, and it can lead to improved health outcomes and lower costs. Crawford contends that letters or call centers cannot match face-to-face interactions with pharmacists when it comes to delivering that value.
To give pharmacists the time they need to interact with patients, Walgreens has developed the Transforming Community Pharmacy program, which changes the way prescriptions are processed.
Recognizing that demand for prescription-filling services can vary dramatically from store to store within Walgreens’ network at any given time, the company is making greater use of workload balancing, which allows lower-volume stores to process some of the administrative work for prescriptions at higher-volume stores. The approach is made possible by Walgreens’ sophisticated pharmacy technology.
The next step, already under way throughout Arizona and Florida, is designed to transfer those same administrative tasks, and more, to centralized facilities where they can be performed more efficiently. Store pharmacists, meanwhile, will be able to spend more time with patients.
“Transforming Community Pharmacy is about freeing our pharmacists to deliver services like medication therapy management, immunizations, flu shots and screenings,” Crawford says.
Walgreens’ successful flu shot program, which began on September 1 and immunized more than 5 million people in three months, is one example of the retailer’s ability to turn its pharmacists into health care providers.
“We have more than 17,000 pharmacists who are certified immunizers, and that is the largest number of immunizers among any retail chain drug stores,” Crawford says. “We’ve done a tremendous job of getting our pharmacists certified, and they love the program because it gives them the ability to show the value that they can bring to the health care system.”
Crawford sees the potential for Walgreens pharmacists to deliver a wide range of health care services in a way that is convenient for patients and cost-effective for payers.
Medication therapy management services, for instance, could bring a huge potential payoff for the nation’s efforts to lower health care costs. Crawford notes that a recent study estimated the total costs of medication noncompliance at about $290 billion.
“If we can utilize the pharmacist’s medication expertise, we can drive better patient outcomes and lower that overall health care cost,” he says.
Walgreens is demonstrating its ability to deliver health care services in other ways. In November the company hosted diabetes wellness events at more than 1,500 stores. The six-hour walk-in clinics offered free blood glucose testing or, for diabetes patients, free A1C testing. Pharmacists were also available for free consultations.
In December Walgreens pharmacists offered to help seniors evaluate Medicare Part D coverage options during the open enrollment period. Pharmacists would enter a list of the patient’s medications and generate a free report detailing each plan’s estimated annual costs, including monthly premiums, brand and generic co-pays, and costs that would fall through the coverage gap, or “doughnut hole.”
Recognizing that changes in coverage often catch patients off guard, Walgreens is continuing to offer help, even now that the enrollment period is over. This month Walgreens is offering one-on-one plan review sessions at its stores, during which pharmacists will review any changes to a patient’s 2010 coverage and look for cost savings opportunities.
Part of what makes such programs valuable is how accessible they are, given that Walgreens has stores in all 50 states and within five miles of more than 70% of Americans.
“We have positioned ourselves to play a major part in health care reform,” Crawford says. “We can deliver quality care through our more than 7,100 retail locations and more than 70,000 health care professionals. We offer great access to health care services and the ability to lower costs through medication compliance and adherence programs as well as our Take Care Clinics. So we think we’re well positioned to be a significant player in health care reform and the delivery of health and wellness services.”
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