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Walgreen marks retailers' push into health care

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Health care reform is projected to cover 30 million more people with health insurance—and overwhelm the nation’s doctors.

That’s where Walgreen Co. thinks it can help. Executives of the Illinois-based company, including its Hoosier CEO, Greg Wasson, this month staged a grand opening for a new pharmacy/health clinic in Indianapolis—a concept Walgreen is rolling out across the country.

It’s a sign of how retailers are pushing deeper into the realm of health care—and to hear them tell it, such efforts will be key to addressing the chronic diseases responsible for the bulk of U.S. health care costs.

“I believe the majority of health care issues are where people are not taking their medicine,” Kermit Crawford, Walgreen’s president of pharmacy, health and wellness services and solutions, said Jan. 19, standing a few yards from the pharmacy counter at the Walgreen store at 16th and Meridian streets.

Walgreen redesigned its pharmacy there, positioning a separate desk and counter where a pharmacist will sit and be available for patients to sidle up for a talk about their health care and their medications. If the conversation requires more privacy, the patient and pharmacist can step into a small room just behind the desk.

Walgreen has tried the model already at its stores in Chicago, and found that 49 percent of its customers talk to the pharmacist at the new desk, Crawford said.

Pharmacists cannot diagnose patient issues or prescribe medicine, but they can help patients understand if their symptoms sound like something worth getting checked out. And at this particular Walgreen, patients could walk another 10 yards and see a nurse practitioner—who can prescribe drugs—in one of two exam rooms.

A total of 10 Walgreen stores in Indianapolis have both a clinic and the pharmacist consultation desk.

And Crawford—noting Walgreen has more than 8,200 stores nationwide, including 70 in Indianapolis—said having easy access to health care professionals should help more patients detect and manage their medical conditions.

“No one’s better positioned in the community than we are,” Crawford said, ticking off statistics that Walgreen’s stores are within five miles of 75 percent of the entire U.S. population. He also noted that Walgreen is carrying more fresh foods—which its health care professionals can recommend, especially for patients with diabetes.

Of course, the executives at Wal-Mart Stores Inc., CVS Caremark Inc. and others might take issue with Crawford’s claim. All of them are pushing various initiatives to provide more retail clinics. In November, Wal-Mart confirmed that it had asked medical providers to consider some kind of partnership that would mimic what Walgreen and CVS are doing.

The trend is clear: Retailers won’t be leaving health care to the doctors and hospitals anymore.

 

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