Pharmacies take more active role in alerts on patients’ drugs

Walgreens is the second major chain to launch a program aimed at preventing hospital readmissions.

By Victoria Stagg Elliott — Posted Oct. 30, 2012

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Physicians soon could be hearing more often from their patients’ pharmacies.

Walgreens, which operates 7,944 stores in all 50 states, announced Oct. 16 the launch of its WellTransitions program for patients at high risk of readmission within 30 days of hospital stays. The program includes providing medication lists to patients’ primary care physicians and taking steps to make follow-up appointments. Walgreens also will provide medication review, bedside medication delivery and patient counseling. About a dozen health systems had signed on as of mid-October, and another dozen were negotiating to enlist the program’s help.

WellTransitions is available at no cost to patients or physicians. Hospitals pay for the program either on a per-case basis or by giving WellTransitions a portion of the money saved on care. Details about how that would be split were not released.

“What we’re working to do is be a resource for physicians and make it more likely that the patient is actually following physician instructions,” said Joel Wright, RPh, vice president of Walgreens’ health system operations. “We are trying to reinforce the idea that the primary care physician is the medical home for a patient.”

Physicians who didn’t sign up for WellTransitions still might hear from it if they have patients cared for by hospitals contracted with the program. The amount of contact will vary depending on whether records indicate the patient has filled a prescription or taken other recommended steps.

Industry-watchers say the program is an example of how health system roles are changing in response to the Affordable Care Act.

Walgreens is not the only pharmacy involved in such a program. CVS Caremark announced on Sept. 29, 2011, that it had signed an agreement with Dovetail Health, a care management company based in Needham, Mass., to develop a hospital readmission prevention initiative for members of its pharmacy benefit program.

The National Assn. of Chain Drug Stores Foundation has asked for proposals involving programs evaluating the impact of community pharmacy medication management within medical homes and accountable care organizations. Forty-four applications were received, and winners of the grants will be announced before the end of 2012.

“When a patient gets discharged, they’re given a lot of information,” said Kathleen Jaeger, senior vice president of pharmacy care and patient advocacy for NACDS and president of the NACDS Foundation. “And typically they just want to go home to their own bed. A day or two passes, and they may think, ‘What did they say? What am I supposed to do?’ There’s a role for community pharmacists in clearing up that confusion.”

The hope is that improving patient adherence to follow-up instructions will reduce readmissions. As of Oct. 1, institutions with high rates will be paid lower Medicare fees. More than 2,200 hospitals, which comprise about two-thirds of U.S. facilities, may have their fees cut by 1%, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Walgreens is in talks with institutions looking to use WellTransitions within an accountable care organization, which may earn shared savings bonuses from government or commercial payers.

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