With the addition of onsite clinics and EHR technology to support practitioners, pharmacies are fast becoming producers of large amounts of health data and innovators in using this information to guide consumers toward positive health outcomes.
“We have a phenomenal platform to improve health and delivery value to the marketplace,” Walgreens CMO and Group Vice President Harry Leider, MD, MBA, tells EHRIntelligence.com. “The big idea is using our physical and digital footprint to support patients to get well, stay well, or to help manage chronic illness.”
This ecosystem of opportunity is the subject of Leider’s keynote during next week’s mHealth Summit in Washington, DC. It represents the culmination of his organization’s efforts to implement a health IT infrastructure capable of capturing large stores of health data.
“We’re now accumulating large amounts of data every month from consumers who are logging their steps, weight, and things such as blood pressure or glucose — either automatically through devices or manually,” he reveals. “In return, our consumers receive reward points for these activities. We’re on the cusp of proving the effectiveness this program, called Balance Rewards for health choices, to improve health outcomes.”
Driving this increase in health data is large-scale EHR adoption across the company’s many retail locations which were originally using an in-house EHR technology better suited to the needs of pharmacists than clinicians:
Our IT system was homegrown, Intercom Plus, and designed and enhanced over many years to support the prescription fulfillment process, but it really wasn’t configured to capture robust clinical information. The EHR that we’re now using in our pharmacies enables our pharmacists to record data about the important services they are providing: like blood pressure tests and immunizations. They can capture much more clinical information that is of value to clinicians in the community or to our own pharmacists and nurse practitioners. This also enables us to do more outcomes studies to evaluate the the effectiveness and value of our clinical programs.
Concomitant with this widespread EHR adoption is the need for health information exchange (HIE) health information with other clinician EHR users outside of the Walgreens ecosystem and the challenge of interoperability.
The decision to add a clinical arm to its traditionally pharmacy-only setup appears novel, but according to Leider it actually recalls a time when pharmacists played a more direct role in the lives of individuals.
“In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, your pharmacist was oftentimes more critical than your doctor, unless you needed surgery, because they he or she could make a tincture of something to suppress a cough or compound a prescription to provide a salve for a rash,” he explains. “Surveys demonstrate that this trusted relationship between patients and pharmacists continues to this day and is very strong.”
In many ways, recent decision-making at Walgreens indicates a plan to emulate that former setup which can now be enhanced with new and emerging technologies and approaches to care delivery.
Technology is definitely enabling Walgreens to share data across the healthcare continuum,” Leider maintains. “In many of our stores, we’ve moved pharmacists from out behind the counter, making them more accessible, and providing them with tools and supports to counsel patients not only about medications, and medication adherence, but also about healthy behaviors such as smoking cessation.”