Bringing the Pharmacy to Patients at Walgreens

Walgreens’ Suzzette Jaskowiak is betting on high-tech solutions to patients’ most common problems

Suzzette Jaskowiak jokes that she procrastinates more than most when it comes to getting her prescriptions. Knowing that about herself, that’s how she approaches thinking about patients managing their own health. The Walgreens vice president of pharmacy, health and wellness technology and her team consistently enlist new and emerging technologies to help assist patients in tasks they tend to overlook. From notification systems reminding patients to pick up their prescriptions to inbound-call speech recognition that can assist customers without having to press a button, Walgreens is focusing on using tech to meet its customers on their own terms.

Jaskowiak leads a constantly widening scope of services for the pharmacy chain that focuses on improving patient outcomes by making more healthcare services readily available in stores. And with Walgreens processing millions of prescriptions a day, Jaskowiak is finding new ways of better managing every customer.

Jaskowiak says that it makes sense for the company to be focusing on improving health outcomes. “The US ranked last among eleven comparable countries for health outcomes, despite having the highest per-capita spending,” Jaskowiak says. “We’re looking to be a convenient healthcare setting for patients to improve those outcomes.”

That means being able to more proactively manage disease states and their links to other health problems. For example, it’s important for diabetics to receive regular eye exams. By launching Walgreens Optical directly in stores, these patients are able to more easily manage their health in a single setting.

For similar reasons, Walgreens has partnered with LabCorp to provide lab services in stores. “Whether a physician suggests a one-time test or a patient has standing orders to get tested every few months, we have locations close to home and work. And they can come to one place for those tests and for their medications,” Jaskowiak says.

Another component of Walgreens’ technological rollouts is centered around improving patient adherence. The company is utilizing machine learning to devise strategies when it comes to notifying patients about prescriptions, reminding patients to take their prescriptions, and, as a result, take more control of their health. “It’s no surprise that we’ve found that the more expensive a medication is, the higher the likelihood the patient won’t come in and pick it up,” Jaskowiak says. “If we can be a more embedded part of that conversation, maybe we can find a formulary alternative for a $100 medication that only costs $5.”

The Walgreens Save a Trip Refills assists patients who have multiple medications (and likely multiple doctors) and have to return to the pharmacy several times a month. “We align all of the patient’s medications to a single date so they only have to come in one time,” Jaskowiak says. “For some people, that has made their lives much easier. The more likely a patient is to get their medication, the more likely they’re going to take it.”

Jaskowiak is able to make such an impact on patients’ lives with the help of some key business partners. “Genesys solutions are deployed to assist Walgreens to achieve their CX goals using omnichannel, AI, and predictive and analytics tools to help the patient in the best possible way,” says Sunny Nanda, senior account executive at Genesys. “Together, Genesys and Walgreens are strong strategic partners to make the patient life easier as much as possible.”

Taking the medication, however, presents an entirely new set of issues that Jaskowiak is beginning to take on. Medication reminders and tracking via the Walgreens app help communicate information not just to the patient, but to the entire care team. Jaskowiak says that many patients do not relay vital information they received from their physicians. “We can still self-report,” Jaskowiak says. “But a lot of technological innovations are allowing a better flow of information into what’s really going on, allowing the care team to create a better care solution.” Products like Abilify’s MyCite, a pill with a sensor that digitally tracks whether patients have ingested their medication, is one example of innovation on the horizon.

“We have all these different ways of getting in touch with patients on their own terms while protecting their health information,” Jaskowiak says. “We just want to make it as easy as possible for people to live healthy lives.”

No Longer the Exception

“I am a female leader in technology, which is pretty unusual,” says Suzzette Jaskowiak, Walgreens’ vice president of pharmacy, health and wellness technology. “I feel an obligation to help other women with their careers.”

Jaskowiak has spent a considerable amount of her life advocating for women in STEM and combating the sliding numbers of women in tech careers. “In 1995, 37 percent of computer scientists were women. Today, it’s only 24 percent,” she says.

Jaskowiak speaks publicly, including as a member of Women In Technology International, on topics like gender bias and inclusion. She started the Women in Technology group at Walgreens, which later rebranded as InclusivIT to encourage men to join. “We need more male allies to join the movement,” Jaskowiak says.

When it comes to more girls in STEM fields, Jaskowiak says programs need to start early. She has been involved with Girls Who Code and Lumity to encourage girls to focus on STEM careers. “Given that jobs are increasingly tech-focused, we are facing a significant issue from a talent-pool perspective,” she says. “Both girls and boys can excel in tech fields, so the time to address this is long overdue.”