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Walgreens Adds Mental Health

Teletherapy services part of new offering
By Scott Warner

Walgreens, the Deerfield, Illinois-based drugstore chain, has launched a new platform that expands access to behavioral health, services and screenings through the company’s dedicated mental health page Through this page, the public can connect with a provider via Breakthrough, an MDLive telemedicine company. The service offers secure video conferencing with state-licensed, board-certified psychiatrists and therapists for behavioral health services. Patients are able to seek help for depression, stress, addiction, PTSD and other concerns. A company spokesman said that all of its physicians and therapists receive specialized “bedside manner” training in diagnosing patients over interactive phone and by secure video.

To access this service, users first need to set up a free account. They then can begin to browse therapists and schedule a video consult with the therapist of their choice. The cost per visit is based on the therapist selected; Breakthrough accepts most insurance plans.

MDLive Psychiatrists can prescribe meds via telehealth and clients can choose to use MDLive telehealth for ongoing treatment. The treatment plan is determined by the client and therapist. A Walgreens spokesperson reports that the psychiatrists who see patients through the service must follow all federal and state laws when it comes to prescribing medications, especially controlled medications. In addition, they must abide by any federal and state regulations that exist for seeing patients virtually and for prescribing of medication via telehealth. If they have met all the federal and state regulations, they are able to prescribe non-controlled medications to patients via telehealth, and in some cases, controlled medications as well, the spokesperson said.

Walgreens is also offering continuing education and training related to certain mental health conditions to its 27,000 pharmacists and 1,100-plus Walgreens Healthcare Clinic providers. And the training is needed. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately one in five Americans is affected by mental health conditions each year—more than heart disease or diabetes. However, it’s estimated that more than one half of those affected do not or may never seek treatment. “In mental health, in particular, adherence (to prescriptions) is a major, major challenge,” Walgreens Chief Medical Officer Dr. Harry Leider was quoted in a recent article in Forbes.

The Forbes article further states that less than 50% of Americans who are prescribed medications to treat mental health conditions take them as directed, if at all. “Pharmacies have always been oriented around supporting patients who are on medications for mental health conditions, but we are providing even more training around medication issues,” Dr. Leider said. For a number of years, the drugstore chain has offered “New to Therapy Consultation” in which pharmacists phone Walgreens patients who are new to targeted medication therapies. Walgreens also offers a 24/7 online pharmacy chat.

Beyond a Traditional Role

Walgreens is one of several large drugstore chains like CVS and Wal-Mart to push further beyond a pharmacy’s traditional role dispensing and managing customer prescription needs. Walgreens is also working with Mental Health America, a nonprofit that will reinforce the drugstore chain’s connecting its customers to free community-based screening for mental health conditions, including bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression.

Sources: “Walgreens To Expand Mental Health Services,” by Bruce Japsen, Forbes, May 10, 2016; ”Walgreens to Expand Mental Health Services to Raise Awareness” by George F. Indest III, JD, Psychology and Mental Health Law blog, May 16, 2016

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