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Walgreens Launches Behavioral Health Screening Program

News  |  By John Commins  
   May 11, 2016

The screening program is described as a "win, win, win" for consumers, payers, and Walgreens, especially if it improves adherence to medication, says the retailer's CMO.

Retail pharmacy giant Walgreens and the nonprofit Mental Health America this week launched a collaborative mental health answer center to heighten consumer awareness and reduce stigmas associated with mental health.

The platform will connect people to MHA's free Online Screening Program, which uses clinically-based but relatively simple and direct online screenings for conditions including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

"We have known for a long time that mental health conditions are more prevalent than other common diseases that get a lot of attention and support," says Walgreens CMO , MD.

"For example, one in four or five adults in this country at any given time are suffering from a mental health condition like depression or anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder and that is more common than diabetes and heart diseases combined."

"As a consumer-based, pharmacy-led healthcare company, we have to step up and offer a range of solutions to our consumers that come into our stores or visit our website every day seeking answers and needing support for mental health."

"It is the right thing to do for us and our partners who are providers as well," Leider says.

Early, timely interventions are often a critical component for diagnosing and improving mental health, and Leider says that Walgreens and MHA have set a goal to complete 3 million online screenings by the end of 2017.

Leider says the program centers around four pillars:

  1. Awareness
  2. Screening
  3. Care facilitation
  4. Therapy support

"Number one, we want to provide increased awareness to our consumers about the prevalence of mental health conditions and the warning signs," he says. "Many people who are depressed, for example, as the most common mental health condition, don't even know they're depressed."

"The second is to increase screenings to provide access to really simple tools that a patient or consumer at Walgreens could do in five minutes to be alerted that they may well have depression," he says.

"The third is once they know they have a problem, to connect them with a trusted source of care and evaluation. The fourth is to use our pharmacy services to support patients once they are put on a medication."

PCPs Lack Time and Resources

Leider says 27,000 pharmacists and 1,100 nurse practitioners in Walgreens' nearly 8,200 stores and clinics nationwide could play "a huge role" in helping patients monitor and stay on their medications. 

"We have six million people coming into our stores every day, and another two million coming to our website or our mobile app. The ability of our pharmacists and 8,300 stores to really support patients are incredible value drivers," he says.

"We have the No. 1 healthcare app in America, maybe the world, and the No. 3 retail app. The pure footprint that we have physically and digitally enables us to increase awareness of our consumers, whether they come to the stores or the website."

"On the other end of the spectrum, I am a primary care physician. I can tell you that the busy primary care doctor does not have the time or the resources to be doing these kinds of medication support activities in their office," Leider says.

"Even if they did, when you are describing the medication for the patient and having a dialog about whether they have depression or post-traumatic stress syndrome, at that time the patient isn't totally hearing all the facts you're giving them."

"But the ability of our pharmacists to reinforce this information about side effects and waiting for the medications to take effect is absolutely critical," he says, "and very hard for a primary care doctor's office to achieve in one visit."

The pharmacists and nurse practitioners will not undertake the screenings themselves, but will refer consumers to the website, Leider says, largely out of patient privacy concerns.

"The major support from pharmacists have revolved around the medications that are commonly prescribed, such as antidepressants, [and] antianxiety meds," he says.

A 'Win, Win, Win'

"Their role is to educate patients about the utility and effectiveness and expected side effects, and when to contact the clinicians with side effects or efficacy. It's what we are doing already, but we're just providing our pharmacists and nurse practitioners with some augmented training."

Leider describes the screening program as a "win, win, win" for consumers, payers, and Walgreens, especially if it improves adherence to medication.

"The patient wins because they are much more likely to feel better and get a response to their therapy, be more productive and have a better life," he says.

"It's a win for the payer because a patient suffering from untreated mental health problems spends more money on medical services. They are costlier because they are seeking more solutions from the health system and they aren't managing their comorbid diseases."

"And frankly, to us, patients being adherent to their medication is valuable to Walgreens," he says.

"The patients are filling their prescriptions more regularly and we get economic value out of that, as well as the patient loyalty."

John Commins is a content specialist and online news editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.

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