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Business in Front, Wellness in Back: Walgreens’ New Diabetes Program Makes Customers Patients

Possible phrase of the future: Dr. Walgreens will see you now. The pharmacy megachain today announced its Optimal Wellness initiative, an education-based self-care program for people with chronic conditions kicking off with a focus on type 2 diabetes.

Walgreens pharmacy

Possible phrase of the future: Dr. Walgreens will see you now. The pharmacy megachain today announced its Optimal Wellness initiative, an education-based self-care program for people with chronic conditions kicking off with a focus on type 2 diabetes. Under the program, patients with the disease will be eligible to receive specialized health coaching and diabetes counseling from a Walgreens pharmacist or a Take Care Clinic nurse, all done in conjunction with the patient’s primary care provider.

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“Chronic care is the big issue in health care right now,” Walgreens innovation officer Colin Watts told Fast Company today. “Over the last 10 or 20 years, the industry has gone to a lot more of an efficient approach. And while we will continue to try to find efficiencies, it’s very clear that what’s lacking is face-to-face care. The pharmacist and the nurse are the most trusted clinicians, and patients spend a lot more time with our pharmacists than they do with many others in the health care system.”

The program works by identifying eligible patients with type 2 diabetes, then linking their primary care physician with their local Walgreens pharmacists. An initial meeting is scheduled where specially trained pharmacists and nurses educate the patient in understanding the disease, the medication involved, proper nutrition, how to measure blood sugar, and how to handle weight. Then, throughout the year, most patients will meet with their Walgreens pharmacist four to six times with updated information and individual patient care. Every meeting is documented and sent to the primary care physician so he or she stays in the loop, as well as logged electronically and placed on Walgreens’ servers for nationwide access. How’s that for electronic medical records?

Type 2 diabetes is just the beginning, Watts says. Programs currently in the works include asthma care and several focused on high cholesterol. The Optimal Wellness program runs side-by-side with Walgreens’ Take Care Clinics, which provide basic, affordable walk-in health care from a nurse practitioner in more than 700 Walgreens stores nationwide, and currently gives H1N1 flu shots for only $18. (See Fast Company‘s story on the Take Care Clinics.)

The pharmacy chain makes money on the program by increasing customer loyalty and through insurance companies–Watts says they are finalizing contracts with insurance companies now and expect there to be no co-pays involved. “When people understand the role of their health care, they become a lot more compliant with taking their medicine, so we benefit because they use the pharmacy more,” he says. “It’s good for their health, and our bottom line as well.”

The Optimal Wellness program is currently testing in Indianapolis, Phoenix, Albuquerque, and Oklahoma City, with plans to roll out nationwide support “as rapidly as possible,” says Watts. He has been working on this initiative since joining the company a year ago, and in May was named chief innovation officer, a newly created position. “This is the first of what you’re going to see in terms of real innovations coming out of Walgreens–it’s a whole new competency,” he says. “We have legacy in great entrepreneurial innovation, and this now lifts it up to the corporate level.”

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