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Behind Walgreens' Move on Prescription Drug Costs, Patient Experience

The new prescription drug cost savings tool, Rx Savings Finder from Walgreens, complements the retailer’s overall investment in patient experience.

Walgreens is pushing its newest prescription drug cost savings tool as the retail health provider continues to vie for the pharmacy as a key part of the overall patient experience.

Riding tailwinds indicating that patients are increasingly open to centering more of their care in the retail and pharmacy setting, Walgreens launched its Rx Savings Finder.

A tool not dissimilar to online discount card aggregators, the Walgreens Rx Savings Finder sets out to solve a key problem in the patient experience: patients don’t know how much their drugs cost, and trying to navigate cost-cutting measures can be an uphill battle.

“Searching for prescription savings can be time-consuming and complicated – both for patients and pharmacists,” Rick Gates, chief pharmacy officer at Walgreens, said in an email interview. “Drug pricing varies significantly across various price shopping platforms, sometimes resulting in customers paying more than necessary for their prescriptions.”

According to Gates, as many as 85 percent of patients don’t know the cost of their medications before they get to the pharmacy counter, and that can put them in a bind as they decide between the high cost of a drug and other expenses. According to a February 2023 report, the bad economy and rising cost of medications are leaving 35 percent of patients to ration their drugs.

That’s something Walgreens is trying to prevent.

“By helping patients easily find savings on their prescriptions at Walgreens, the Rx Savings Finder helps to increase prescription access, affordability and adherence,” Gates stated.

The Walgreens RX Savings Finder is an aggregate tool that consolidates various discount card options into one platform. The tool is designed to make it easier for patients to save on drugs than searching for drug discounts across multiple websites and comparing cost savings.

The technology works on any generic or name-brand medication for all Walgreens customers, regardless of insurance status. And although the discounts offered on Rx Savings Finder cannot be combined with health insurance, the savings are often greater than what’s available with insurance, Gates pointed out.

Patients get the savings by either sending the discount card to their own phone or email or by presenting their phone to the pharmacist. From there, the pharmacist enters the processing information for the prescription discount card.

This approach isn’t unlike some other discount offerings, Gates noted, but it does have several differentiating benefits. Foremost, the Walgreens Rx Savings Finder doesn’t require a membership, and it’s good for name-brands and generics. And unlike other platforms, the prices don’t fluctuate frequently, nor do they vary from store to store, Walgreens said.

All of this should be a boon for the pharmacists working at Walgreens, Gates added.

A month ago, Walgreens and its competitor CVS Health made headlines as pharmacy workers began a three-day strike intended to highlight poor working conditions. Although Gates didn’t comment specifically about the strikes, he did indicate that the Rx Savings Finder would ease the workload for pharmacists interacting with patients seeking low-cost prescription options.

“By enabling customers to easily find lower prescription prices, we’re lessening the load on pharmacists to educate patients about discount price options – further enabling an environment where pharmacists have the support and flexibility they need to provide more forms of essential patient care while experiencing greater job satisfaction,” Gates said.

Gates added that the tool will mitigate workflow at the pharmacy counter by reducing reversals and test claims.

Pharmacists have been supported in the Rx Savings Finder implementation through trainings and overviews of the tool, mostly so pharmacists can answer questions for patients.

“However, given the tool is for patient use, we don’t anticipate any workflow challenges, as pharmacists will only be responsible for entering the processing information once a patient has found a prescription discount card coupon to use,” Gates explained.

The Rx Savings Finder joins a suite of tools Walgreens said it uses to help support patient access to care, medication adherence, and, ultimately, better chronic disease management.

Walgreens Virtual Healthcare, which provides on-demand medical care and prescription treatments for common medical needs, plus the Walgreens mobile app, is part of the collection of patient engagement technologies slated to improve the pharmacy experience.

“Our industry-leading prescription experience and pharmacy programs drive medication adherence by helping patients navigate common barriers to staying on their medications, supporting overall health and better outcomes,” Gates noted. “If we can help get patients healthier at a lower cost for them and the healthcare system, that’s good for our patients, partners and for our business.”

But this move may be about more than cost savings. Walgreens is introducing this consumer-facing tool just as retail health, and pharmacists in general, assume a greater role in supporting patient health and wellbeing.

“Pharmacists, including retail pharmacists, are highly trained and trusted healthcare providers who act as the connective tissue of the healthcare ecosystem and play a major role in the health of their communities,” Gates said. “The pandemic cemented the position of pharmacists and pharmacies as the front door to healthcare access for most Americans.”

In 2023, Wolters Kluwer data showed that patients are increasingly amenable to getting their care in retail settings, likely a result of growing consumer sentiment in healthcare. Overall, 58 percent of patients said they are open to getting certain types of care in a retail clinic, like those in Walgreens stores.

Similar trends emerge for pharmacist-led care. In 2023, researchers from the Department of Pharmacy Practice at Northeast Ohio Medical University found high patient satisfaction with pharmacist-led care. Other studies have found that pharmacists can help fill care gaps and address social determinants of health (SDOH).

Walgreens said it recognizes the potential for patient care in the pharmacy setting, and so implemented the Rx Savings Finder to complement other consumer-facing offerings, like its telepharmacy, microfulfillment, and centralized support center.

“Walgreens pharmacists interact with 10 million customers daily, uniquely positioning them to counsel and build relationship with patients, supporting them across their healthcare journeys,” Gates concluded. “From prevention and wellness to post-acute care, pharmacists have the opportunity to provide various forms of essential care based on patients’ holistic health profiles, as well as partner with other healthcare providers to maximize their impact on patients’ lives.”

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