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Study finds telehealth expands access to health care

BY Antoinette Alexander

WASHINGTON — As the interest in telemedicine programs continues to grow, a recent Rand study found that people who are younger, more affluent and do not have established healthcare relationships are more likely to use a telemedicine program that allows patients to get medical help for acute ailments — including prescriptions — by talking to a doctor over the telephone.

Patients who used the service suffered from a wide assortment of acute medical problems, such as respiratory illnesses and skin problems, and researchers indicated that they found little evidence of misdiagnosis or treatment failure among those who used the service.

The findings, published in the February edition of the journal Health Affairs, are from the first assessment of a telemedicine program offered to a large, diverse group of patients across the United States.

"Telemedicine services such as the one we studied that directly links physicians and patients via telephone or Internet have the potential to expand access to care and lower costs," Lori Uscher-Pines, lead author of the study and a policy researcher at Rand, a nonprofit research organization, stated. "However, little is known about how these services are being used and whether they provide good quality care. Our study provides a first step to better understand this growing health care trend."

Uscher-Pines and co-author Ateev Mehrotra studied 3,701 patient "visits" provided from April 2012 to February 2013 by Teladoc, a provider of telemedicine services. Teladoc connects patients to providers for specialty visits or connects providers to other providers for consults for in-hospital care. Patients who used Teladoc were compared to peers who visited hospital emergency departments or a doctor’s office for a similar problem.


Among patients studied, the most common problems for a Teladoc visit were acute respiratory conditions, urinary tract infections and skin problems, which accounted for more than half the cases. Other frequent reasons for Teladoc visits were abdominal pain, back and joint problems, viral illnesses, eye problems and ear infections.

Teladoc users were slightly more likely to be women and live in more affluent areas. In addition, more than a third of Teladoc visits occurred on weekends or holidays.

"The people who are attracted to this type of telemedicine may be a more technologically savvy group that has less time to obtain medical care through traditional settings," Mehrotra, a Rand researcher and an associate professor at the Harvard Medical School, said.

Across the leading conditions, visits to Teladoc were less likely than visits to the emergency department or a physician office to result in a follow-up visit for a similar condition, according to researchers. Rand researchers have indicated that the finding suggests that health problems were most likely adequately addressed during the Teladoc visits. However, researchers caution that more research is necessary to further assess the quality and safety of telemedicine services.

Support for the study was provided by the California HealthCare Foundation.

 

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Costco January sales up 6%

BY Michael Johnsen

ISSAQUAH, Wash. — Costco on Thursday reported net sales of $8 billion for the four weeks ended Feb. 2, representing an increase of 6% percent from the similar four-week period last year. 

Comparable store sales across Costco’s U.S. store base were up 5%.

For the 22 weeks ended Feb. 2, Costco reported net sales of $46.3 billion, representing a similar increase of 6% vs. the year-ago period. 

 

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Canada’s Shoppers Drug Mart posts Q4 results

BY Antoinette Alexander

TORONTO — Canadian pharmacy retailer Shoppers Drug Mart posted an increase in fourth-quarter sales driven by gains at the front end and strength in prescription count growth. The company also noted that it is gearing up for an expansion of its enhanced beautyBOUTIQUE during 2014.

Sales for the quarter were Canadian $2.75 billion, an increase of 0.9% compared with the year-ago period. Same-store sales increased 1.2% during the quarter.

Pharmacy sales were C$1.23 billion in the fourth quarter, an increase of 0.8% compared with the same period of the prior year, as strong growth in the number of prescriptions filled at retail was partially offset by a further reduction in average prescription value, the company stated. On a same-store basis, pharmacy sales increased 0.5%. 

During the fourth quarter of 2013, the number of prescriptions dispensed at retail increased 5% compared with the same period of the prior year and was up 4.7% on a same-store basis. Pharmacy volume growth was evident in all regions of the country and remains particularly strong in Ontario, the company noted. 

Year-over-year, average prescription value at retail declined a further 3.8% during the fourth quarter of 2013, largely the result of further reductions in generic prescription reimbursement rates because of ongoing drug system reform initiatives in all provincial jurisdictions, along with increasing generic prescription utilization rates. 

Front store sales were C$1.517 billion in the fourth quarter, an increase of 1.1% compared with the year-ago period, led by strong growth in cosmetics and food and confection. This is a particularly strong result relative to the marketplace and given that sales of OTC medications declined year-over-year in the absence of a strong cough and cold season compared with the fourth quarter of last year, the company stated. On a same-store basis, front store sales increased 1.7%.
 
Net earnings, inclusive of transaction-related costs of C$3 million associated with the pending acquisition of the company by Loblaw, were C$169 million in the quarter. Excluding the impact of these costs, adjusted net earnings for the fourth quarter of 2013 were C$172 million compared with net earnings of C$175 million in the same period of the prior year. On a diluted basis, adjusted net earnings per share were 86 Canadian cents in the fourth quarter of 2013 compared with net earnings per share of 85 Canadian cents in the same period of the prior year, an increase of 1.2%. 

"We are pleased with our fourth quarter and full year operating and financial results. By any measure, our performance in the fourth quarter of 2013 is a successful conclusion to what has been a very successful year for our company and its shareholders. In what remains a highly competitive and challenging marketplace, it is clear that our value proposition and unwavering commitment to provide the best in patient-care and customer service continues to resonate with patients and customers alike," Domenic Pilla, president and CEO said. "On behalf of our shareholders and the board of directors, I would like to thank our corporate and regional office employees, along with our Associates and their teams at store level, for their efforts and contributions to our collective success in 2013."

Commenting on the pending acquisition of the company by Loblaw, Pilla stated, "While the transaction must still be reviewed and approved by the Competition Bureau, we look forward to the conclusion of this process and the resultant combination of Canada’s leading food and pharmacy retailers."

Fiscal 2013 sales for the 52 weeks totaled C$11.06 billion compared with C$10.78 billion in 2012, an increase of 2.6%.  On a same-store basis, sales increased 1.9% in 2013.

Pharmacy sales were C$5.23 billion in 2013 compared with C$5.10 billion in 2012, an increase of 2.5%, as strong growth in the number of prescriptions filled at retail, combined with further sales gains in the company’s MediSystem Technologies business, were partially offset by a further decline in average prescription value. On a same-store basis, pharmacy sales increased 1.3% during the year. 

Front store sales were C$5.831 billion in 2013 compared with C$5.681 billion in 2012, an increase of $150 million or 2.6%, with the company posting sales gains in all categories, led by strong growth in cosmetics, OTC medications and food and confection. On a same-store basis, front store sales increased 2.5% in 2013.

Net earnings in 2013 were C$602 million compared with C$606 million in 2012. On a diluted basis, adjusted net earnings per share were C$3.05 in 2013 compared with C$2.97 in 2012, an increase of 2.7%. 

During a conference call with analysts on Thursday, Pilla said the company plans on expanding its enhanced BeautyBOUTIQUE concept in 2014.

“Our enhanced beauty store at Bayview Village, which was our first prototype, is doing extremely well and continues on its momentum. And Eaton Centre, we are very pleased with the results at Eaton Centre … so we are anticipating building more of those starting in 2014,” Pilla said.

As previously reported, the company unveiled its second enhanced beautyBOUTIQUE at the Toronto Eaton Centre in August. The first enhanced BeautyBOUTIQUE opened in November 2012 in an existing Shoppers Drug Mart store in Bayview Village in Toronto.

With regard to its more traditional beautyBOUTIQUES, the company currently has 348 beautyBOUTIQUES, which includes 23 that were added in 2013.

“Our differentiated service model continues to resonate with Canadian consumers and so the quality, knowledge and passion of our beauty advisers is coming through. Therefore, that differentiated service offering, not only in terms of their service but all the unbiased service across all brands, seems to be the winning model in the Canadian consumers’ mind,” Pilla told analysts.

He added that the beauty advisers have been armed with tools, such as iPads, to offer shoppers more personalized service and further enhance the retailers’ differentiated service offering.

 

 

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