Complaint to Dept of Health Alleges Patients Are Put at Risk by Florida’s Largest Drugstore Chain

A complaint filed today with the state Department of Health alleges that a Walgreens pharmacy format, called “Well Experience,” creates unlawful risks to public health and patient privacy. The complaint comes as state lawmakers and regulators consider changes Florida’s requirements for pharmacy supervision.

“With this model, we believe Walgreens is violating its legal and ethical responsibilities to patients,” said Nell Geiser, Associate Director of Change to Win Retail Initiatives, the organization that filed the complaint.  “Florida’s largest drugstore chain isn’t above the law, and we are calling on the pharmacy board to make Walgreens adhere to the legally required safeguards.”

Pharmacists in the Well Experience format are removed from the traditional pharmacy work area and are stationed in a public facing desk in front of the pharmacy counter.  The out-in-front pharmacist generally views digital pictures and video feeds on his or her computer to supervise prescription fills, and often does not actually handle medication before it is given to patients.

Watchdog group Change to Win Retail Initiatives’ complaint argues that the Well Experience model’s reliance on supervision via computer screen violates Florida statute requiring direct pharmacist supervision of pharmacy staff. At its April 1 meeting, the Florida pharmacy board’s rules committee will consider changes to the supervision law that could permit technological supervision, and the Florida legislature is currently considering legislation that could allow pharmacists to supervise an unlimited number of technicians.

CtW’s complaint also alleges that Walgreens is breaking laws requiring healthcare providers to protect sensitive patient information.  The group’s 2013 investigative study of Walgreens’ Well Experience model found patient privacy violations in 90 percent of Florida stores visited.  Many of these violations came from pharmacists having to handle patient information in the public-facing desk and then leaving it unattended.

CtW is asking the Department of Health to investigate these privacy breaches.

A number of state pharmacy boards have effectively prohibited the model or required modifications.  In a California meeting of the state board, a Walgreens representative admitted that CtW’s 2013 study documented violations of pharmacy law. Despite widespread questions about its safety and efficacy, Florida’s board did not publicly review the model before Walgreens implemented it in the state.