Walgreens’ pharmacists get more face time with patients

Walgreens’ pharmacists get more face time with patients

After being hospitalized with a heart attack on Leap Day, Ed Von Bergen stopped at Walgreens pharmacy on State and Randolph Streets in Chicago to fill prescriptions. “I had half a dozen medications and didn’t know what I was doing,” says Von Bergen.

So when pharmacist Nancy Salman — sitting at a desk next to pharmacy checkout — suggested an in-depth consult to answer questions, he agreed, following up on subsequent visits. “I had more conversation with Nancy than the sum total with all other pharmacists in my entire life,” he says.

It wasn’t by accident. In an effort to win loyal customers and position itself as a more holistic health care provider, Walgreens has revamped about 200 pharmacies in cities including Chicago, Indianapolis, and Washington, D.C., and a spokesman says the company plans to redo more pharmacies around the country as well as incorporate the design into new construction. That includes a planned three-story flagship store in Philadelphia slated to open in the fall.

The nation’s largest pharmacy chain has routed many calls to centralized call centers and enlisted pharmacy technicians to fill more prescriptions to get pharmacists off the phone and out from behind the counter so they can play a more prominent role with patients. Competitors, too, such as CVS, are streamlining operations to free up pharmacists to counsel patients. As pharmacies expand their role in health care, they hope to increase reimbursement from insurers.

Nimesh Jhaveri, executive director of Pharmacy and Healthcare Experience for Walgreens, says changes allow pharmacists, who already administer immunizations, blood pressure checks and chronic disease screenings, to better serve as adjuncts to a patient’s time-starved primary care doctor. “That relationship will ultimately drive better outcomes,” Jhaveri says.

Pharmacists are encouraged to venture onto the sales floor to answer questions and visit with patients in private consult rooms in the Health Corner. Some of Walgreens’ 350 Take Care Clinics, where nurse practitioners treat minor ailments, share this corner. In addition, revamped pharmacies offer fresh food and a broadened line of beauty products. In April, Walgreens unveiled an online tool — walgreens.com/findyourpharmacist — aimed at helping customers find pharmacists with expertise in specific areas, like diabetes management.

“We now have much more patient interaction,” says Cathy Simmons, pharmacy manager for the highly rated Walgreens on West 86th Street and Michigan Road in Indianapolis. “I’m out front, and patients feel more comfortable asking me about anything and everything.”

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