Walgreens. Facing A POWER Shortage?

I can be a little late to things sometimes.

It seems that while I've been busy writing about things like how some customers like to put Rogaine on their penis (please do not put Rogaine on your penis) the biggest player in the retail pharmacy business has been testing the waters with a program that will fundamentally, completely, and forever change the concept of what a drugstore is. Walgreen's calls it their POWER program, and it's been underway for well over a year and a half now in test markets in Florida and Arizona. I blame The Angriest Pharmacist for the fact I'm just getting hip to things. He wrote about it back in May, and if his posts weren't so incredibly boring to try and slog through maybe I would be in the habit of looking at his blog every once in awhile and would have learned about this thing back then.

I kid. You know I love you Angriest. Even though no one would know who you are had you not named yourself after someone else's blog.

Anyway, the POWER program. Before I get into it let me just warn you that everything I know about it I got from digging through miscellaneous blogs and internet forums. Not the most reliable source of information, so don't take anything here as gospel truth, and by all means feel free to send in corrections, but from what I gather the gist of it is to move as much of the prescription filling process off site as possible. This involves large, central fill pharmacies that receive scanned prescriptions and refill orders from several stores, input the data & then either fill them to be delivered back to stores the next day or zap the labels back to the store to be filled by technicians there. Phone calls do not go to your local store, but to a remote call center. That's right. Call your local Walgreen's and you could be talking to someone in a cubicle hundreds of miles away. Drug Utilization Review, (interaction/allergy checking type stuff for those of you not familiar with the lingo) is done at the central fill pharmacy or by a pharmacist working at home. Prior authorizations and insurance rejects are taken care of at the distant central pharmacy cubicles. At the store level, the pharmacist is kept away from the prescription filling process, stationed at the cash register where they are supposed to see the prescription for the first time only when a customer comes to pick it up.

Why would Walgreen's do this? Because a warehouse full of cubicle rats can type in ten thousand sets of prescription data and fill them more quickly, and more importantly, more cheaply, than a dozen sets of pharmacy staff  in various locations around town.

Will it work? That depends on what exactly the force is that lines up against it. Remember that a corporation's primary interest is not just to make money, it is to make more money than last year. If you make $10 billion this year and make only $10 billion the next year, you are a failure in the corporate world. Couple this with the $1.50 (and dropping) prescription insurance dispensing fee, and you can start to make out the handwriting on the wall. Ever since the dawn of capitalism, anyone or anything that has gotten in the way of the corporation and its need to make an extra nickel per share in the next fiscal year has been ruthlessly and mercilessly crushed. So even though it seems to be almost the unanimous opinion of the internet chatterers that these POWER prescriptions are not being filled as accurately as before, that will not stop POWER. Walgreen's, and any other corporation, will pick quicker and cheaper over accurate every time.

By the way, did I mention the part about the massive layoffs of pharmacy technicians and pharmacists? If I know my corporation, the fact that individual store workload might go down 30% will be used as an excuse to reduce staff by 40%, and sure enough, the forums are full of tales of severance packages, voluntary and otherwise, re-interviewing for your old job, and people not making the cut and being let go. Mercilessly crushed he said.

So are we doomed? Not necessarily. Because unlike every other seismic event that has shaken the pharmacy world, there seems to be absolutely nothing in this for the customer other than a pain in the ass. They won't be talking to a person at the store they think they are calling. Pain in the ass. They will be encouraged not to have the audacity to ask for refills the same day they would like to pick them up. This in a business climate where you can have a pair of eyeglasses made in an hour. Pain in the ass. Common insurance rejects, like the 90 day prescription that needs to be billed for a 30 days supply, that take 10 seconds to take care of at store level will now be put in a queue to be dealt with when a cubicle rat gets around to it. Pain in the ass. Now customers will take a certain amount of pain in their asses in return for something, like a lower price, but their tolerance for ass pain is likely to be low when they can have their prescription filled for the exact same copay someplace that isn't asking them to make an appointment to buy 10 Viagra pills.

There is already evidence Walgreen's is finding this out. After setting up their test markets, word is that plans to expand the POWER program have been put on hold until 2011. I used to work for the Pharmacy America Trusts When They Are Too Lazy To Get Out Of Their Car To Pick Up A Prescription, and one thing I took away from the experience was the impression of competence from the top-level, strategic planners at the organization. I'm not kidding you. If Walgreen's can't make this work, than there's no way the company you work for can, and right now there's some doubt as to whether Walgreen's can make this work.

For the sake of the public and the profession, I hope they don't.

Click here and here to read some of the internet forums regarding the POWER program.

Click here and here to read The Angriest Pharmacist's post on the subject.
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Walgreens. Facing A POWER Shortage?
Walgreens. Facing A POWER Shortage?
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