ThinkProgress has previously reported that a massive contributor to America’s annual $2.7 trillion health care expenditures is the staggering 50 percent of Americans who simply do not take their prescribed medications properly.
Now, Wonk Blog’s Sarah Kliff is reporting that corporate pharmacy giant Walgreens wants to start bucking that trend by forming “accountable care organizations” (ACOs) in conjunction with local physicians and hospitals. ACOs are coordinated care systems that are paid on the basis of their performance. If an ACO successfully provides Medicare beneficiaries with quality care while keeping costs under a year-to-year target, it is rewarded with higher Medicare reimbursements from the government by netting the savings — but if it goes over the annual target, it has to swallow the losses.
Although most ACO applications so far have been partnerships between more specialized health care providers, more convenient access to local pharmacies might make them effective venues for managing and tracking Americans’ treatments after their hospital visits:
While a pharmacy-run ACO is not the traditional model, [Walgreens' Senior Vice President Jeffrey Kang] argues it actually makes a lot of sense. Pharmacy stores are open every day of the year, making them a more accessible point of contact than most doctor offices. They have begun to handle basic health care, like vaccination and preventive check-ups, right in the store, which could prevent more costly diseases down the line.
Health care research shows that unnecessary hospital readmissions are often caused by a patient not following the prescribed medical regiment after discharge, creating another place where pharmacists could easily intervene. [...]
“The way I like to describe it is as a physician-led plan where we’re an active partner,” Kang says. “They’re the quarterback who creates the treatment plan. We can be care extenders who help implement and execute the plan.”
In order to make that active partnership work, Walgreens is working to become better integrated with its partner health care systems. While both the pharmacies and doctors, for example, already have electronic medical records, they now need to ensure that each system can interface, allowing all health care providers to track a given patients’ care.
Walgreens’ decision to venture into the coordinated care market underscores the broad innovative potential of Obamacare provisions such as ACOs. Centering medical treatment followups in pharmacies could go a long way towards making sure that Americans stay on their treatment regimens, thus reducing sickness, deaths, and costly hospital re-admissions.
However, lawmakers should make sure that pharmacies that provide more extensive services have the proper oversight, so as not to fall into the same pitfalls as laxly regulated compounding pharmacies in the wake of last year’s deadly meningitis outbreak.