launched an online directory of its pharmacists to help consumers identify local druggists who have special clinical training and expertise and/or can speak their languages. While websites that provide information on physicians, hospitals, home health agencies, and other providers have proliferated in recent years, Walgreens says this is the first such listing of pharmacists.
A Walgreens-sponsored survey found that in addition to location, consumers choose one pharmacy over another based on pharmacist training and areas of expertise. Nearly 70% of respondents said they would choose a different location or pharmacist if the druggist had training that met their health needs.
"The pharmacist-patient relationship can be very instrumental in helping to improve health outcomes because patients often are talking with their pharmacist more often than their primary care physician," noted Kermit Crawford, Walgreens president of health, pharmacy and wellness, in a statement. "Establishing a personal relationship with your pharmacist can help improve health outcomes by helping customers feel comfortable and confident in working with their pharmacist for information, advice and support."
Among the pharmacist specialties highlighted on the Walgreens website are medication adherence, immunizations, diabetes management, children's health, wellness education, medication side effects, and HIV care.
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Some Walgreens pharmacists received special training in these areas in pharmacy school, and others hold certificates from institutions that give training courses, noted Dave Lovejoy, Walgreens' group VP for pharmacy services, in an interview with InformationWeek Healthcare. For example, the American Red Cross certifies pharmacists' expertise in giving immunization shots, he said.
Consumers can also use the directory to find out whether anyone in their local Walgreens pharmacy can speak their language. If not, perhaps a pharmacist in another local Walgreens can. And if that doesn't work, a pharmacist can consult an internal directory of the chain's 28,000 pharmacists, who speak a total of 16 languages, and find someone who can translate for the customer in the store.
Another key feature of Walgreens' "find a pharmacist" program is the ability of consumers to make appointments with pharmacies if they have specific needs. While they can't book a time to speak with a particular pharmacist, they can ask the store when that individual is scheduled to be in the store, Lovejoy said.
Walgreens hopes that this approach will help build closer relationships between patients and their neighborhood pharmacists, Lovejoy said. In addition, the chain aims to elevate the profile of pharmacists in the healthcare world.
"What we're trying to showcase is that the pharmacist is a significant part of the healthcare environment," he said. "We want to allow our pharmacists to do more of what they've been trained to do, which is practice at the top of their license. Our pharmacists are excited because they're doing what they've been trained for, which is to help patients manage their health and have better outcomes."
The online directory is available on mobile devices, which have become a significant component of Walgreens' marketing strategy. The chain's "refill by scan" feature, which allows consumers to use mobile devices to scan bar codes on pill bottles and send in refill requests, now accounts for more than 40% of Walgreens' renewals, Lovejoy said. Recently, the chain added two new mobile features: A "pill reminder" app allows iPhone users to track their medication schedules and receive reminders on preset schedules. And "Transfer by Scan" gives iPhone and Android users the ability to transfer their prescriptions from other pharmacies to Walgreens.
Additionally, Walgreens sends refill reminder and "prescription-ready" text alerts to more than 2 million of its customers.
The chain's online strategy also extends to its Walgreens' Take Care subsidiary, which operates 350 retail clinics in Walgreens stores. Recently, Take Care launched online appointment scheduling. Customers can also look up cost, quality and wait time information on the Take Care website.
Lovejoy said that Walgreens is looking into ways to combine its "find a pharmacist" feature with Take Care's online approach. "You can schedule an appointment at Take Care as well," he pointed out. "And we believe that one day those will be one and seamless, and we'll be putting our nurse practitioners on the same type of availability [as pharmacists] to connect those with our patients as well."
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