Inside This Issue - Opinion
Community pharmacy has come a long way
April 20th, 2009
As members of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores gather for their Annual Meeting at The Breakers in Palm Beach, Fla., it is fitting to reflect about how far the industry has traveled.
Not all that long ago — 20 years or so — executives attending the event were narrowly focused on the workings of the pharmacy and front-end businesses, not venturing too far beyond what went on within their own companies, relations with suppliers and a limited range of public policy issues that had a direct bearing on the sector.
Today, NACDS members have a much more expansive vision, one that insists on pharmacy’s integral place in the health care system and touts the profession’s untapped potential for improving the lives of patients and reducing costs. What’s more, they’re moving aggressively to make that vision a reality.
CVS Caremark Corp. is one of the companies that is expanding the reach of community pharmacy. The merger two years ago of the CVS drug chain with the Caremark pharmacy benefits management business created an entity that fills or administers more than 1 billion prescriptions a year. Now the company is working to use its capabilities to bring about a paradigm shift that increases patient engagement.
“As the largest integrated pharmacy health care provider, we are able to leverage our multiple touch points across the continuum of pharmacy care and provide our clients with the most innovative programs to help them manage their costs while improving health outcomes,” says CVS Caremark chairman, president and chief executive officer Tom Ryan.
Wal-Mart is another agent of change, most notably for its espousal of generic drug discounting and the wave of responses it set off among competitors. The retailer’s latest initiative involves electronic medical records. Its Sam’s Club division has teamed up with Dell Inc. and eClinicalWorks to provide physicians’ offices with practice management systems that computerize patient information.
If successful, the program, which is designed to reduce the cost and complexity of implementing such technology, will further the widely shared goal of putting all health care records in the United States in an electronic format. That, in turn, should give pharmacy operators the information they need to expand their role and document the value of the care they provide.
The recent decision by Walgreen Co.’s Take Care Health Systems subsidiary to offer free service for families that suffer job losses illustrates another aspect of chain pharmacy’s involvement beyond the boundaries of the industry. Take Care’s in-store clinics and others like them are indicative of chain pharmacy’s growing scope. The Take Care Recovery Plan goes a step further.
“We will not stand idly by as individuals are forced by the hardships of the economy to choose among basic necessities such as health care, housing and food,” says Walgreens president and chief executive officer Greg Wasson.
Those developments exemplify the industry’s intense and growing engagement with patients, payers and other health care stakeholders. Many chains, both large and small, are helping fuel the trend: Rite Aid Corp. and Duane Reade Inc. have distinguished themselves with innovative diabetes care programs, Kerr Drug effectively melds standard pharmacy offerings with home health care equipment, Health Mart is doing its part to make medication therapy management a viable and reimbursable part of community pharmacy practice, and the Katz Group is focused on maximizing the benefits of the interaction between pharmacists and patients. And that’s only a partial list.
Gone are the days when retail pharmacy was content to operate strictly within its own sphere. Through its actions and advocacy efforts in Washington, the state capitals, the judicial system and at the grass roots, the industry is now making itself heard on a bigger stage.