Bloomberg: Greg Wasson joins thought leaders to discuss the state of health care in the United States
CHICAGO — At Bloomberg’s The Year Ahead: 2014 conference at the Art Institute of Chicago on Thursday, Walgreens president and CEO Greg Wasson joined a group of health care thought leaders to discuss the state of healthcare in the United States.
Wasson suggested large employers, or at least Walgreens, will continue to provide high-quality benefits in an effort to attract high-quality employees on one hand and to lower healthcare costs for both Walgreens and its employees on the other. "One of the things we just did … we actually went out into the competitive marketplace and worked with a private exchange," he said. "The competitive marketplace is a good place to be. It also increased the options for our employees — they had two health plan options a year ago; now they have 25."
Led by Bloomberg View columnist Lanhee Chen, Wasson was flanked by former U.S. Senate majority leader William Frist, Mayo Clinic CEO John Noseworthy, Boston Consulting Group partner Michael Ringel, John Hopkins Medicine CEO Paul Rothman, and Thompson Holdings CEO Tommy Thompson.
Sona Chawla: The mastermind behind Walgreens’ cohesive digital experience
Walgreens on Thursday announced the appointment of Sona Chawla, president of e-commerce, as president of digital and chief marketing officer. In this role, Chawla will lead a newly created digital and marketing Division, establishing a unified and integrated digital, enterprise-wide marketing, and customer loyalty and insights group to advance Walgreens “Well Experience” strategy and vision to be the first choice in health and daily living in America and beyond, Walgreens stated.
Chawla is a brilliant thinker and tech wiz whose e-commerce strategies have helped Walgreens forge new relationships with customers however they engage with Walgreens. Now she brings that expertise to a global marketing role for the company at a time when digitization and big data-driven insights are bringing a greater degree of personalization to customer engagement efforts.
Chawla recently joined Walgreens president and CEO on stage for a keynote address at the Shop.org Annual Summit 2013 (at the 42′ 30" mark of the presentation). Between Wasson and Chawla, the two explained exactly what it means for Walgreens to lead the digital revolution across retail pharmacy — and that’s by integrating a digital experience across every facet of Walgreens’ operation. "It means making sure that everything we do for the customer we are thinking about how to bring a digital experience along the way," Wasson said. "That is difficult. Because when you’ve been a brick-and-mortar retailer for 100-plus years … it’s making sure that if we are thinking about some type of innovation, we’re just not thinking about the customer coming into the store."
And it’s thinking of digital as a comprehensive, cohesive offering, not just creating an ad hoc solution that creates a digital element within each of Walgreens’ offerings. "We’ve been very mindful as we’ve been developing our digital strategy is to think holistically," Chawla said. "It really is about building the right customer experience. … It’s not just the in-store experience, it’s also when they’re not in store," she said.
"Walgreens is innovating in all areas. And that’s the way it should be," she continued. "In terms of digital innovation, what’s been really important is, yes, we’ve hired digital experts, but then we also have people with deep business knowledge. It’s only when you put those two together do you get true innovation. Because if you don’t understand our business and you don’t understand our customers, you truly can’t have innovation. You have something bright and shiny that doesn’t go anywhere."
That’s the energy she brings to the table — Chawla has experience putting the right people together to drive collaborative innovative ideas across the company.
Canadian report and previous experience show pharmacists can wear more than one lab coat
A new report released by Shoppers Drug Mart and Pharmaprix shows that the Canadian healthcare system could save C$1.4 billion to C$1.9 billion by expanding the role of pharmacists.
While there are some important differences between the healthcare systems in the United States and Canada, both face common problems, in particular, a rising burden of chronic disease and rising costs. But they also have in common a way to alleviate some of the burden on physicians and some of the costs: increasing the kinds of services that pharmacists can provide.
California is already in the early stages of doing this. Last month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that allows pharmacists to perform physical assessments, order and interpret laboratory tests, refer patients to other providers, work with providers to evaluate and manage patients’ health issues and start, adjust and terminate medications under physician protocol.
As the Canadian study noted, chronic diseases affect 37% of Canadians and are a factor in 70% of deaths, with associated medical costs estimated at $42 billion and expected to rise to $53 billion by 2015. In the United States, the Milken Institute estimates that chronic disease costs the healthcare system $1 trillion per year, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 75% of healthcare dollars goes to treatment of chronic diseases.
It’s already known that pharmacists provide services like vaccinations for lower prices than physicians do, and in a more convenient setting, typically with no appointment needed. Outside the retail setting, pharmacists also have proven to be effective providers of other healthcare services.
For example, according to a 2011 report by the U.S. Public Health Service, pharmacists working for the Indian Health Service with pharmacist-physician collaborative practice agreements under the National Clinical Pharmacy Specialist program deliver direct patient care through disease management for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory disease, end-stage renal disease, pain management and tobacco cessation. Following an initial diagnosis, the scope of services the IHS pharmacists provide includes physical assessments, prescriptions, ordering lab tests, clinical assessments, therapeutic plans, patient education, care coordination and followup care. "Thus, pharmacists in these clinics perform direct patient care services and document the findings similar to any other healthcare provider, but with recognition and revenue generation capacity only in a limited number of areas." In the 13 years before the report’s release, 278 IHS pharmacists had been certified under the NCPS program.
In the United States, an estimated 30 million people are expected to become eligible for healthcare coverage thanks to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, whereas Canadians already are eligible, thanks to universal health care. But both countries have similar issues: According to a report by the National Academy of Sciences, the United States has fewer physicians per capita than most other developed countries, particularly in primary care; meanwhile, according to a report last year by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, Canada’s healthcare system is behind other countries in terms of how long patients must wait for service.
Thus, in both cases, pharmacists can step in to relieve some of the burden placed on doctors. Every vaccination a pharmacist performs in a drug store is one a physician doesn’t have to perform during a routine appointment, and every lab test ordered by a pharmacist is one a physician doesn’t have to order. For the sake of patient access to health care, it’s time for pharmacists to wear more than one lab coat.