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More than 30,000 Pharmacists Now Administering Flu Shots in Neighborhood Drug Stores

Posted Aug 19 2010 12:00am

Pharmacies and pharmacists seem to be evolving into neighborhood healthcare centers. I have posted previous notes about this phenomenon (see: Local Pharmacies Emerge as Centers for Care of Diabetics ; Pharmacist-Staffed Coagulation Clinics in a Large Health System ). I have also discussed the deployment of retail, walk-in clinics staffed by physicians and nurses in retail pharmacy chains like CVS and Walgreens (see: Cleveland Clinic Partners with Minute Clinic in Retail Health Services ; Growth of Walk-In Clinics Slows Down ; Study of Patients Patronizing Walk-In Retail Clinics ). However, I have not been tracking the extent to which pharmacists have been trained to administer flu shots. Some details about the trend were revealed in a recent article (see: Suntan Lotion, Flip-Flops... and Flu Shots ; registration required). Below is an excerpt from it:

Drugstores, still struggling with a weak economy, are pushing flu vaccinations earlier and harder than ever. They've bolstered the ranks of pharmacists certified to give shots and are promoting the service through TV commercials, in-store displays, Facebook and Twitter. CVS Caremark Corp., which is reaching out to some of its 64 million loyalty-card members via e-mail, is letting customers book an appointment by computer, phone or in-person. Walgreen Co. is even advertising flu-shot gift cards, for $29.99, aimed at kids headed off to college and other family members,....Rite Aid Corp. this year tripled to 7,400 the number of pharmacists who can administer flu shots. Walgreen has 25,000 pharmacists trained to give flu shots, up from 16,000 last year. Until recently, retail pharmacists couldn't get state certification to provide flu shots. This is the first season all 50 states will allow pharmacists to provide vaccinations. In the past, drugstores brought in outside vendors. Stores are generally charging $25 to $30 for shots....Pharmacies could use a sales boost, as prescriptions have shrunk as people cut back on doctor visits in the poor economy. Fewer visits to the pharmacy mean fewer chances to sell toothpaste, mascara and potato chips. CVS recently trimmed its fiscal-year outlook amid a 12% drop in pharmacy claims, while both Rite Aid and Walgreen saw sales dips.

I have been a little surprised that the evolution of chain drug stores into mini-heath centers has not proceeded more rapidly. I attribute part of this slow-down to the general lack of success of some of them. Some of these in-store clinics are now in the process of refining their business models to a more appropriate mix of services and staffing. However and as emphasized in the excerpt above, the poor economy is causing pharmacy chain executive to look for new medical services to raise revenue and increase foot traffic -- flu shots seem to fit the bill.

The question then remains whether retail pharmacies will seek to expand to other healthcare services such as blood drawing for lab testing. The local drug stores could operate as convenient patient service centers (PSCs) and draw blood for the national reference labs such as Quest and LabCorp. LabCorp has already used such a strategy within Duane Reed drug stores in New York City (see: LabCorp To Offer Medical Tests At Duane Reade Drugstores In New York City ). Of course, these national reference labs are a high-volume, low-margin business and already have their own blood-drawing facilities. They may have no incentive to expand into higher-priced drug stores merely for the sake of greater customer convenience.

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