HEALTH

WHO: Pregnant women infected with H1N1 virus experience fatal illnesses

BY Michael Johnsen

GENEVA The World Health Organization on Friday stated that research — conducted in the United States and published July 29 in The Lancet — outlining increased risk of severe or fatal illness in pregnant women when infected with the H1N1 pandemic virus has been observed in several other countries experiencing widespread transmission of the virus.

Women are at particular risk during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. An increased risk of fetal death or spontaneous abortions in infected women has also been reported. Evidence from previous pandemics further supports the conclusion that pregnant women are at heightened risk, WHO added.

WHO strongly recommends that, in areas where infection with the H1N1 virus is widespread, pregnant women, and the clinicians treating them, be alert to symptoms of influenza-like illness. Treatment with the antiviral drug oseltamivir should be administered as soon as possible after symptom onset. As the benefits of oseltamivir are greatest when administered within 48 hours after symptom onset, clinicians should initiate treatment immediately and not wait for the results of laboratory tests.

WHO has further recommended that, when pandemic vaccines become available, health authorities should consider making pregnant women a priority group for immunization.

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Drugstore.com reports booming business, plans for expansion with microsite

BY Michael Johnsen

BELLEVUE, Wash. While retailers have experienced flat to declining revenues through the current recession, Drugstore.com’s online business is booming on account of two trends: 1. over-the-counter medicines and beauty products which are historically recession-resistant, and 2. more consumers are turning to the Internet in their search of deals.

“Overall revenues [for the quarter] were $100.3 million, the highest in company history,” Dawn Lepore, Drugstore.com CEO and chairman, told analysts Thursday evening. “OTC revenue grew 10% despite flat-to-declining e-commerce industry trends.”

And the online West Coast retailer envisions that OTC revenue continue its upward climb by hundreds of basis points going forward, thanks in part to Drugstore.com’s corporate partnerships with Medco and Rite Aid and the imminent launch of a new Drugstore.com concept called “microsites,” where Drugstore.com will create an online destination center around specific OTC categories that go beyond the offerings available on its core site.

Drugstore.com on June 1 officially launched its online Medco Health Store — a branded Medco site powered by Drugstore.com where Medco’s 60-million-plus covered can order over-the-counter medicines online.

“This is an exciting opportunity especially when you consider that $20 billion in pharmaceutical drug [sales] are expected to go OTC in the next five years,” Lepore said. “We offer over 20,000 of our SKUs on their site categorized [by] healthcare condition.”

And the e-retailer plans to launch its first microsite — Sexualwellbeing.com — next week with the goal of being the low-cost leader specifically in that category. “We are able to leverage our existing inventory and organization to cost-effectively launch a series of sites dedicated to specific areas,” Lepore explained. “Sexual well-being is an obvious category for a microsite. There [will be] some additional products [on that site] that may not be appropriate for the Drugstore.com site,” she added. “There are a number of categories — everything from mens to allergy — that are very promising microsites.”

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NCPA: Members left out of the FSA mix

BY Michael Johnsen

ALEXANDRIA, Va. A new Internal Revenue Service requirement intended to ensure that flexible spending account debit cards are used only for eligible purchases, has produced a wave of logistical problems for independent community pharmacies, putting them at an unfair, competitive disadvantage, the National Community Pharmacists Association announced Friday.

However, for those NCPA members who signed on for FSAok AutoCopay, a service announced by NCPA on July 8, there have been no issues, NCPA noted.

Since the IRS mandate took effect, community pharmacists who had installed an appropriate “point-of-sale” system and/or qualified for the “90%” exemption from the requirement have had transactions involving FSA debit cards consistently rejected, NCPA noted.  And calls to the Special Interest Group for IIAS Standards, a standards-setting body that oversees the new requirement, can take several business days to initially reach a representative.

As a result, community pharmacists are being told to send their patients to their larger chain competitors.

“Independent community pharmacies have been consistently and comprehensively disadvantaged in transactions of the type SIGIS was established to equitably facilitate,” NCPA EVP and CEO Bruce Roberts, wrote in a letter to SIGIS.

“We are receiving consistent complaints from our membership that SIGIS and its processes are opaque, unresponsive and lack transparency. Worse, our members consistently find that SIGIS is unresponsive and unhelpful,” he commented. “The processes and procedures being used by SIGIS appear to disadvantage small community and independent pharmacies, and in doing so, hurt their ability to compete in the marketplace with SIGIS’ large corporate members,” Roberts continued. “This is a source of grave concern to NCPA and our members.”

NCPA officials raised these concerns in a July 23 conversation with SIGIS officials and are hopeful the group will take prompt measures to alleviate some of the problems community pharmacies are experiencing.  Specifically, the NCPA letter requests the following actions:

  • Establish a dedicated independent pharmacy help-desk that is answered by a live individual during regular business hours. All inquiries received via e-mail or on after-hours voicemail should be responded to within 24 hours; 
  • SIGIS should facilitate and expedite the acquisition of merchant codes by community pharmacies within 24 hours. In addition, community pharmacies should not be classified as e-merchants or placed in a non-medical category;
  • SIGIS should notify pertinent parties when an error occurs in the application process within 24 hours for all applicant types;
  • SIGIS needs to notify pertinent parties when amendments of applications occur so that an independent pharmacy, the acquirer or other relevant party is made aware of any new information within 24 hours;
  • SIGIS should notify and make available to plan administrators and card processors the list of newly certified merchants on a daily basis;
  • SIGIS should send correspondence to all plan administrators advising them to stop directing employees/patients to particular pharmacies or pharmacy chains.

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