Thursday, February 3, 2011

Improving the Pharmacy Profession… One Wal-Beer At a Time

Walgreen’s bills itself as “The Pharmacy America Trusts.” With that trust comes the responsibility of an honest and ethical management of their patient’s health care. If America trusts them as they suggest, and honestly it’s probably hard to argue otherwise, due to their size they are the public face of pharmacy.

It’s not preferable that one, generic entity represents the varied world of pharmacy, but alas that is what we have to live with.

Imagine the shock pharmacists across the nation had when a little nugget of news appeared, even as it was clearly attempted to be brushed under the rug. That nugget? The creation of Wal-Beer.

We live in a massively evolving health care system in which pharmacists are fighting to rightfully assert themselves as a respected and educated member in modern collaborative practice. For too long we have been either dismissed or ignored, but in the last two decades have seen the profession begin to shred itself of those shackles and become an integral part in the management of a patient’s health.

And it is something to be applauded.

The bigger issue, something which I have touched on in the past, is that while those within the medical profession now readily acknowledge our presence, the public has a complete lack of understanding of our abilities. It is a fact that, at some point, will need to be addressed if we are to reach our full potential.

Now, the public will have Wal-Beer.

How morally and ethically responsible is it for the largest pharmacy chain in this country to create a beer label, with a low-ball price point, in the midst of this change? Pharmacy’s across the nation are refusing to sell cigarettes and alcohol in their pharmacy, yet Walgreen’s has decided to not only ignore this but to instead take it a step farther.

And don’t tell me that it’s okay to sell cigarettes in a pharmacy as the pharmacist can consul a patient on the negative aspects of smoking. The day that truly happens is the day the cigarettes are kept behind the pharmacy counter.

Fat chance of that.

Instead, “The Pharmacy America Trusts” is undermining everything we have fought for these past decades. In class we are preached “Patient Care, Patient Care, Patient Care,” and that our generation of pharmacists will be focused on this for our entire career in new and novel ways.

So how does Wal-Beer fit into that? How is what Walgreen’s doing an attempt to not only further the profession but increase the health of their patient population?

I realize that chain pharmacies are more profit driven than others, but this is a deplorable step even by those standards. Every day we deal with shrinking reimbursements and the lack of an ability to bill for basic services. This is what Walgreen’s should be focusing on and standing up against, not creating its own line of cheap beer.

The better question is, what will organizations like APhA say about it? Will they ignore it? Or will they stand up and denounce the creation Wal-Beer and what it means for the profession? A dare not to be overly dramatic and overstate the importance of doing so… but I’m not sure that would be overly dramatic.

Surely Walgreen’s isn’t the first pharmacy to attempt something of this nature, but as the face of the profession they should be held to a higher standard. If not by the public, then by their employees and the profession itself.

There are bigger fights on the horizon and many will dismiss this as something trivial. It is far, far from trivial however, and represents a dangerous tipping point for the profession. If we wish pharmacy to be properly understood and respected among not only our peers, but the public, we cannot condone this.

Until then, Walgreen’s shouldn’t be the pharmacy America trusts. Hell, they shouldn’t be the pharmacy pharmacists trust. Should they?


Old MD Girl said...

In the same vein, it was rumored that at the VA one could order "a beer" as treatment for alcohol withdrawal. Just saying....

Phathead said...

Most hospital pharmacies keep some type of booze on hand, usually beer or vodka, for severe alcholics. There's a bunch of studies on it and, if I remember correctly, the main logic is when you're treating someone for something you don't need them to grow through withdrawls at the same time.

Rather interesting studies if you get a chance to leaf through them.

Practical Tech said...

You know that there are plenty of customers who go into Walgreens and never fill prescriptions there. For some of them, Walgreens is the closest "convenience" store to their residence where they can run in and out for basic items. For example, I live in an area where icy roads have caused a lot of businesses to close and many people are off work or school because of it. They live close enough to walk to Walgreens, however, and can still pick up that loaf of bread and that bottle of wine (Walgreens has a private brand of wine as well as the Big Flats beer) without having to brave the roads. As I said before, some of these people never go back to the pharmacy, and probably don't even realize there *is* a pharmacy back there.

The big wigs at corporate recognize the need for a clean, welcoming convenience store that is more appealing than your local 7-11 and less busy than a supermarket or Wal-Mart. Why shouldn't they tap into that need to help supplement their pharmacy business? Do you know how low our reimbursement rates are for prescriptions? Haven't you seen the trend of budget cuts for our pharmacy technicians and even the removal of automated filling machines in the slower stores? That beer they're selling up front is keeping the business on its feet, and its not as if they are shoving it down peoples' throats. They will buy it anyway, whether it's at your Walgreens or the beer and wine shop down the street.

Just because we're a big chain doesn't mean we're evil or that we don't care about the future of pharmacy and our patients' well-being. Our job is to educate patients and steer them on the right track of health and wellness. Selling beer and cigarettes, though contrary to that mission statement, helps pay our salaries and keep us in an accessible public position to help our customers make good choices despite the other temptations.

Anonymous said...

What is so bad about a pharmacy selling beer? Should a pharmacy also not sell candy, potato chips, sweets, pop, etc. etc. etc. I mean with the obesity rates what they are that must make sense. Also Wal-Mart promotes their pharmacies just as much as Walgreen s. Why should they be allowed to sell beer and cigarettes.

Anonymous said...

They also have their own brand of chocolates and ice cream too. How dare they?! Don't they realize that we are facing an obesity epidemic? Bottom line: Some people choose to drink and eat responsibly and others don't.

Unchained Pharmacist said...

This is a prime example of non-pharmacy people running the pharmacy business. WAG is leveraging its pharmacy business to drive front end sales. Beer seems like a good idea since WAG has only recently started to sale alcohol. Private Label (snicker, snort) beer give them larger profit margin. A pharmacy selling beer UNDER ITS OWN LABEL is the point I think Phathead is trying to make.

Maybe in the future WAG will offer coupons for free acetylcysteine (with prescription) when purchased along with a 6-pack. Or better yet, for every 5 prescriptions you fill, you'll get a coupon for a free 6-pack. BTW, if any WAG executive is reading this and decided to go with this idea. I want a piece of the action.

w/v = scroters (you mean Rocky Mountain Oysters?)

Anonymous said...

If you look into the history of walgreens a large part their rapid growth was from alcohol sales during prohibition. - see "Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition" by Daniel Okrent

Anonymous said...

Alcohol used to be an antidote for antifreeze poisoning.

We used to keep alcohol in the hospital pharmacy for several reasons: compounding, withdrawals (the cardiologist did not want to have his open heart patient going through detox in post-anesthesia recovery), and we used an alcohol drip for patients that accidentally ingested more poisonous forms of alcohol. Also, at one time, wealthy patients sometimes took up residence in a private hospital wing, and they were dispensed a nightly beer, instead of a benzo.

Anonymous said...

the WAG slogan doesn't say "The pharmacy America trusts" anymore.

Its "there's a way"...

Lame, but the trust part is gone.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to remind everyone that WAG's CEO and Senior VP's still have RPh after their names. Just because you're a pharmacist does not mean that you have to be allergic to good business sense.

Samme said...

Last I heard drinking a beer a night is good for your heart. Besides, people with alcohol problems usually drink much stronger stuff than low-bid beer. Someone would probably have to use the restroom 3 times before they could drink enough of that stuff to get a buzz.

At least they would be well-hydrated!

The Redheaded Pharmacist said...

Someone else mentioned the fact that this is a perfect example of non-pharmacy executives running a pharmacy business. If Walgreens thinks they can make a buck then they will do it no matter how off the wall it may sound. I guess the pharmacists and technicians working at Walgreens will have something right in the store to buy and drown their sorrows when the next round of hours cuts come! Somehow, that actually seems fitting to me.