Medical drug benefits meet doctors and their patients via mobile platforms: that’s the prescription for a retail health care experience with the consumer’s checkbook in mind, brought to you by Walgreens pharmacy and Epocrates, the #1 most widely-used mobile drug information source among U.S. physicians.

In this offering, Walgreens will channel its discount formulary information through Epocrates’s mobile application. About 300,000 U.S. physicians use the Epocrates drug database for prescription information. These users will be able to use Epocrates to check a Walgreen PSC member’s formulary profile against the prescription drugs the doctor is considering. At that point-of-prescription, the doctor can have a conversation with the patient about whether a less expensive alternative is available. Providers will have free electronic access to the Walgreens PSC list.

Walgreens has over two million members in the Walgreens Prescription Savings Club (PSC). The PSC isn’t a prescription drug insurance plan but rather a drug discount club that offers price reductions on prescription medications bought at retail. All drug categories are covered in the PSC formulary, from chronic care meds for asthma, high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes, to lifestyle drugs and birth control pills. If you click on this link, you will find a discount drug price calculator that’s very easy to use, and provides transparency in pricing that can help consumers avoid ‘Rx sticker shock’ at the pharmacy checkout counter.

According to Walgreen’s press release dated October 20, 2010, “As health care providers [emphasis added], we help patients be compliant with their medications and want to make sure they are aware of their options, including ways to realize savings without compromising safety, service or convenience,” Richard Ashworth, Walgreens vice president of pharmacy operations, said.

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  This venture is notable in several respects. First, here a retail pharmacy is partnering with a physician-facing IT vendor, providing a valuable service for patients. I’ve frequently written about the important role that the community pharmacy plays in health citizens’ lives — as health continues to morph toward retail, as consumers pay more for health care (esp. for prescription drugs) out-of-pocket, the pharmacist can help bolster good health habits – like sticking with prescription drug regimens (known as “adherence,” or less popularly as “compliance”). Note the emphasis I placed on Walgreens’ use of the phrase, “health care providers.” Here, the company is positioning itself on-par with the physician, the hospital, and other providers in the health care ecosystem — where it surely belongs, but is at times marginalized by other players in that ecosystem.

Second, looking at the project from the other side, Epocrates is morphing toward the consumer B2C arena while they’ve generally played in B2B milieu in health care. The company has mobile phone apps available for smartphones which consumers can already access (which I do). Thus their brand name will gain familiarity with highly engaged health consumers in this program, which Epocrates can build on should they choose to do so.

Finally, the point about price transparency as a “hot trigger,” as B.J. Fogg likes to use the phrase: in a recent Epocrates survey of more than 1,000 physicians, 80% of prescribing doctors said they changed a prescribing decision based on information available in Epocrates. In Fogg’s world, putting a “hot trigger” in the path of a motivated person can change behavior. In this case, the hot trigger piece of data is seeing a high price for a branded prescription drug when a cheaper alternative may be available; the motivation is to buy at a lower price, a very satisfying retail experience for any consumer. That’s powerful medicine.

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