HEALTH

Walgreens to test diabetes care model

BY Jim Frederick

DEERFIELD, Ill. Ramping up its increasingly aggressive commitment to being a broad-based health solutions company, Walgreens is gearing up to test a new, pharmacy-centered disease management program for patients with diabetes.

Walgreens president and CEO Greg Wasson announced the plan during a conference call Monday with investment analysts as the company unveiled its third-quarter earnings results [see related story]. The new patient-care initiative comes as Walgreens continues its retail realignment and expands its integrated patient-care capabilities to health plan payers, employers and patients themselves.

“We’re pioneering new approaches to achieve better health care outcomes,” Wasson told analysts. “In coming quarters, we’ll pilot a chronic care management service in four markets, focused initially on Type 2 diabetes. The service will integrate capabilities across all of our platforms, including pharmacies, retail clinics, call centers and mail service, to enable patients to better control their conditions.”

In a related development, Walgreens stores in south Florida have teamed up with the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation, based at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, to raise funds for a diabetes cure, and awareness about the disease. The joint effort involves 265 of the chain’s stores.

The chain “will continue to invest in these areas” going forward, Wasson said.

Walgreens is in the midst of a major transformation of its business. Central to its reinvention strategy, first announced last fall, are efforts to position itself to America’s employer-based health plan sponsors, pharmacy benefit managers, physicians and other health stakeholders as a highly accessible, cost-effective solution to a health care system whose costs are spiraling out of control.

In line with that effort, Wasson also revealed Monday that more than 16,000 Walgreens pharmacists “will be licensed by this fall to provide flu vaccinations and immunizations.“We also have nurse practitioners in about 350 in-store clinics to handle routine family illnesses at a much lower cost than an emergency room visit,” Wasson added. “These services sit very well with the major themes of health care reform: access, affordability, and disease prevention and wellness.”

What’s more, asserted Walgreens’ top manager, those services are increasingly vital to a health care system that is broken and in fundamental need of reform. “If left unchecked, some estimate health care costs will grow from about $2.5 trillion today to $4 trillion within a decade,” Wasson warned. “Walgreens and the retail pharmacy industry have a role in generating savings in health care.

“Our pharmacists and clinicians at retail and employer clinics are accessible, affordable providers of quality care, and it makes good economic sense to include them as part of the solution,” he added.

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CDC: H1N1 surges on through the spring, possibly summer

BY Michael Johnsen

ATLANTA The novel H1N1 virus still is proliferating, even this late into the spring, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday during a press conference.

“As the summer is approaching, influenza season has normally ended by now. However, the novel H1N1 influenza transmission continues in the United States,” said Daniel Jernigan, deputy director of the influenza division at the CDC. “There are two areas of the country that continue to see increased numbers of patients in the clinic with influenza-like illness, [and] both of those are in the northeast part of the United States.”

Although, overall, there continues to be influenza activity reported in 17 states.

“The United States will likely continue to see influenza activity through the summer, and at this point, we’re anticipating that we will see the novel H1N1 continue with activity probably all the way into our flu season in the fall and winter,” Jernigan said. “There is a potential for this fall that we might have multiple sub-types circulating,” he added, especially as the novel virus circulates through a typical flu season across the southern hemisphere. “In the past with pandemic strains, [there] has been a replacement [virus],” he said, such as the pandemics in 1918, 1957 and 1968. “But right now, we don’t have enough information to say that there is a replacement occurring. And at this point, we are expecting — at least planning — that there will be multiple sub-types that are circulating at the same time this fall.”

As of Friday, the CDC reported 21,449 confirmed cases throughout the states and United States territories, up some 20.2% from the number of confirmed cases reported last week, including 87 deaths. New York leads the nation with the number of deaths at 24, followed by Texas with 10.

“There are some surveys that indicate that the amount of disease in the areas that are having activity with H1N1 is perhaps around 7% of the population reporting symptoms due to influenza-like illness,” Jernigan reported, so the number of confirmed cases may still be significantly under-representative of the actual number of patients who have contracted the novel H1N1 virus. “The virus continues to impact mostly younger people. So far it is not causing significant illness and death in the elderly like we would see with seasonal influenza. And the symptoms that are being reported are consistent with influenza, [those] being predominantly fever, cough, some shortness of breath, fatigue and chills,” Jernigan said, as well as some vomiting and diarrhea.

In addition, some 81 healthcare professionals also have tested positive for the novel H1N1 virus, so far. The CDC successfully tracked 26 of those professionals prior to May 13, and determined that roughly half of them contracted the virus at their workplace.

“[One] point that’s made in this report is related to the infection control measures that are used to prevent exposure of healthcare personnel to influenza,” commented Mike Bell, associate director for infection control at the CDC. “Probably the single most important thing is that infectious patients be identified at the front door. Whether these patients are coming in through the emergency department or the ambulatory care clinic, identifying them up front is essential so healthcare personnel know that they should be doing the things that we recommend; that consistent application of precautions is important to make sure that there isn’t occupational exposure.”

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AAHP responds to report that questions safety of homeopathic remedies

BY Michael Johnsen

SANTA ROSA, Calif. The American Association of Homeopathic Pharmacists on Friday struck back against an Associated Press report published Thursday that questioned the overall safety of homeopathic remedies in the wake of the warning letter issued by the Food and Drug Administration to Matrixx Initiatives earlier in the week around safety concerns of two Zicam products.

“Consumers and healthcare professionals alike should be assured that the FDA’s action in regard to certain Zicam products does not apply to this class of drugs as a whole,” the association stated. “Rather, the FDA’s advisory relates only to the nasal application of a specific zinc product.”

Homeopathic medications are regulated by the FDA and have been used safely in the United States since before the passage of the 1938 federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, the AAHP added. “The FDA’s Compliance Policy Guide … has been an effective and workable way to regulate homeopathic drugs since 1988, and, as shown by the FDA’s action on June 16, it allows the FDA to take action when action is required to protect the public,” the AAHP stated.

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