Much has been made of the competition between CVS and Walgreens for supremacy in chain drug retailing and leadership in the health care community. And indeed there is little doubt that these two health care retailers are in a class by themselves when it comes to providing patient care.


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Inside This Issue - Opinion

CVS, Walgreens set new standard in Rx

February 4th, 2013
by David Pinto

Much has been made of the competition between CVS and Walgreens for supremacy in chain drug retailing and leadership in the health care community. And indeed there is little doubt that these two health care retailers are in a class by themselves when it comes to providing patient care.

The real story here, however, is the extent to which these two world-class retailers have distanced themselves from the rest of the retail community in terms of their commitment to provide quality health care and positive patient outcomes.

Treating the patient, rather than dispensing prescription drugs, has become the focus at both retailers. They have grasped, more nearly than any other retail health care practitioners in the United States, the changing nature of patient care. More specifically, they understand that it’s no longer about providing that patient with medicine and hoping, often against hope, that the patient will be conscientious enough to adhere to the medication regimen.

Rather, the new order of the day for both CVS and Walgreens is monitoring that patient’s health and insuring, as far as possible, a healthy outcome. This priority has been made more urgent and more timely by the aging of the population, the acute shortage of primary care physicians, the increased emphasis on medication therapy management and the widespread realization, at last, that the pharmacist is truly the patient’s first line of defense against disease.

What makes CVS and Walgreens so special — indeed, so much more special than their competitors within the retail and health care communities — is that, in addition to recognizing the changing nature of health care in America, these two chain drug retailers have taken dramatic steps to address those changes and effectively manage them.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the events that have unfolded in the aftermath of the current flu epidemic. As obvious examples, CVS and Walgreens have each administered more flu shots than any two health care facilities in America. That’s a startling statement, given the fact that these two retailers have only recently gotten into the flu vaccination business and that, traditionally, medical practitioners have been the patient’s first choice when flu shots are sought.

Beyond that obvious example, it should be noted that both retailers have trained up their pharmacists to function as health care advisors, not merely prescription drug dispensers, and that successful outcomes have become the new mantra at both organizations.

Then there’s the success of the immediate care clinics each operates. With flu symptoms rampant, business is booming at both CVS’ MinuteClinics and Walgreens’ Take Care Clinics, as patients hurry in for both diagnosis and treatment. Forgotten, at least for the moment, are debates over the financial wisdom of opening such immediate care facilities. For now, bottom-line concerns have been replaced by a commitment to the patient — and, over the longer term, tying that patient to both the clinics and the drug chains that operate them.

CVS has perhaps gone even further, combining with Caremark to monitor and influence health care from both a patient and provider standpoint. No matter. Walgreens has recently advanced its own cause by aligning itself with Alliance Boots, the strongest health care provider outside the United States, a company with huge potential for influencing Walgreens within the United States.

Truth is, the battle for industry leadership in providing health care is no longer between CVS and Walgreens. It’s become a contest between America’s two leading drug chains and the remainder of the health care community. And the two drug chains are winning.

Writing about this dramatic shift in emphasis and priorities is almost as stunning as the shift itself. Only in this decade have CVS and Walgreens recognized that their efforts, so well targeted in the past, would no longer efficiently address the needs of a changing health care environment — and shifting health care priorities. No longer would the effective distribution of medicine be sufficient for a patient whose needs and requirements have broadened to the point where their needs go far beyond easy access to medication.

Today, to the contrary, they require advice, counsel, access to a health care professional and some guarantee that that access will result in a positive outcome. For the first time in the history of retailing in America, two drug chains are offering, indeed promising, to provide that outcome.

This says lots about the changing nature of health care in America. It says lots more about the leadership of America’s two most important drug chains that they have stepped up to address the new paradigm — and are rapidly making themselves indispensable to the health of the American ­consumer.

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