Feds Investigate Walgreens Over Privacy Concerns

Feds Investigate Walgreens Over Privacy Concerns

A federal agency is investigating whether Walgreens, the nation’s largest pharmacy chain, violated the rights of customers by not properly safeguarding their medical information.

The investigation by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, involves a new type of store design Walgreens is using to have pharmacists meet with patients to discuss their medical issues. The chain has remodeled hundreds of stores to encourage the consultations.

1024px-WalgreensonPalmAt issue is whether pharmacy technicians in the so-called “Well Experience” stores go unsupervised while the pharmacists consult with customers, and whether private medical information is disclosed or compromised during the process.

Walgreens (NYSE:WAG) is already under fire from pain patients for maintaining a “secret checklist” that makes it difficult for them to get prescriptions for opioid pain medications filled. Many have also complained to the National Pain Report that they were profiled or humiliated by Walgreens’ pharmacists.

The new investigation was triggered by a complaint filed by a consumer advocacy group called Change to Win, which is funded by labor unions. The group said it visited over a hundred Walgreen stores and observed widespread patient privacy violations, including medical histories left visible on desks or prescription drugs left unattended.

Walgreen stores are largely non-unionized.

A company spokesman told the Wall Street Journal that the new store layout has been approved by pharmacy boards in more than 30 states.

“Walgreens is proud of the work we’ve done to advance community pharmacy in the U.S.,” said Michael Polzin. He said the company was co-operating with the investigation and predicted “the matter will be resolved without action.”

Three states — Maryland, Hawaii and Connecticut — don’t allow the “Well Experience” stores, because they require pharmacists to directly supervise technicians who fill prescriptions.

Change to Win has also been active in Florida, where it filed a complaint this week with the state health department alleging that 15 Walgreens stores violate state law by having pharmacists sit at a table away from the actual pharmacy, allowing technicians to work without supervision.

The complaint comes as the Florida legislature considers whether to allow the state’s Board of Pharmacy to increase the ratio of pharmacists-to-technicians, which would allow pharmacists to supervise more technicians in stores.

Pharmacists in the “Well Experience” stores observe technicians through a video screen while consulting with patients.

“While Florida law permits pharmacists to step away from the prescription area for specific reasons, such as to consult with patients, it stipulates that these activities must be conducted in a manner consistent with the pharmacist’s responsibility to provide pharmacy services,” the complaint states.

“The statute defines what supervision is and this isn’t following it,” Nell Geiser, associate director of Change to Win told the Associated Press.

The Florida Board of Pharmacy is considering whether to allow pharmacists to use “technological means” to supervise technicians, which could include a video screen.

Authored by: Pat Anson, Editor

There are 15 comments for this article
  1. Marian Medvec at 5:32 pm

    Kurt, I am pleased that you brought up the fact that the pharmacist is not part of the treatment plan. I do not know why pharmacists try to get involved in your health issues. If a doctor writes an Rx, why does the pharmacist have to have an opinion about it. His job is to fill the Rx.

  2. Kurt at 1:19 pm

    It’s not just Walgreens — I’ve had trouble with all the chain pharmacies in the past two or three years, having my medication in stock. I’m talking about an Rx of less than 100 tablets of a generic opiate. This situation is unacceptable.

    Prescription monitoring systems are also part of the problem. Some pharmacists are using this tool as a way of further invading privacy. They may see multiple prescriptions for opiate-based analgesics, but since they’re not part of the treatment plan, they don’t understand what they see when doses are increased, medications rotated, or breakthrough doses prescribed.

    I’ve had trouble in King Soopers (a Kroger store) and Target, both, regardless of the fact that I’ve filled many CII scripts there before.

    I recently had to change my pain doctor and returned to my primary for my monthly analgesic medications. My doc decided to rotate my opiates, and when I presented the new scripts, two pharmacies refused to fill — even though they were new scripts for a different medication. I was a week or 10 days early because of the change in doctors, but still — these were different medications.

    The discount store pharmacist looked in his computer and told me — “you filled early here and here.” So what? We’re trying to get my pain under control. If it were a problem with my doc, he wouldn’t have written.

    The grocery store pharmacist stamped the back of my scripts with his company logo and wrote in big letter: “refill too soon”, signed the back and wrote his phone number so that any other pharmacist would call, and he could slander me privately.

    Ironically, it was the Walgreens pharmacist who filled my new script without incident. The Walgreens connection is irrelevant — this is a personal thing. This pharmacist is both humble and polite. He never gives you the jaded look, and can fill a CII script in 15 minutes or less, while his colleagues in the same store require an hour and a half. It is a good month when I see him behind the counter.

    I’ve been prescribed opiate-based analgesics for almost 30 years, and the pharmacist power trip has not changed, but now we’ve given them more tools to play that ego game.

  3. Dennis Kinch at 1:09 pm

    I truly believe the DEA caused this whole mess and they should come out publicly in support of legitimate patients and stop putting the “heat” on the pharmacies and doctors so they can do their jobs. Walgreen’s, and soon everybody, are just scared “rabbits in the headlights” of law enforcement. They are making up rules as they go strictly to protect themselves. They are scurrying every time we bring in an opioid script.

    The DEA started this campaign years ago, against doctors and patients because they couldn’t catch the bad guys and were facing losing their jobs. When this didn’t work (because there wasn’t enough of us breaking the law) they started in on pharmacies. All to make it look like there is an epidemic of misuse and that they are needed to police the problem. They created it so it must end with them. Let’s make it end with them!

  4. Marian Medvec at 12:24 pm

    Thank you for a very good letter. I also was fond of Walgreens until they started with this “comfortable” stuff. If I am breaking a law or a rule, let me know. Otherwise, fill the prescription and let me on my way. I know that doctors also are becoming “uncomfortable” writing prescriptions even for such non opioid drugs as tramadol. My pain doctor said, disgustedly, that ALL doctors can write ANY prescriptions they want to. He was angry that the family practice doctor threw this responsibility for tramadol to him. I don’t blame him. He is great, by the way.

  5. patti at 11:03 am

    Our entire family used Walgreens for over 20 years and had a wonderful pharmacist. First they stopped taking Express Scripts and then went back to it after losing over half their customers. In addition to prescriptions we and others spent several thousands on other products especially during the holidays. Then we were unable to get our prescriptions filled, the pharmacist manager left and the new one felt it was appropriate to tell me that he does not use opiates and he has chronic pain but just grins and bears it. We all had to change pharmacies about 4 x because King Soopers and other local and hospital affiliated pharmacies claimed they were “not comfortable” filling medications we have been on for over ten years. Now the pain clinics are doing the same. Governor of Colorado Hickenlooper and others are trying to pass bills with more restrictions without notifying their constituents which include the chronic pain community. I guess until legitimate pain patients start taking their lives because they can not live with the pain the politicians, lawyers, DORA, FDA, DEA etc. will side with those abusing prescriptions & combining them with alcohol & illegal drugs, instead of those of us that are following the rules and need medications to be productive citizens. It took a decade to get to a decent medication level and now after 20 years of chronic pain we are being stripped of our rights to have any quality of life whatsoever. They might as well take us all out back of the governor’s mansions and shoot us because without medications the pain is far too overwhelming to live with. AND yes, like most pain patients we’ve spent thousands $$ on using alternative methods as well.

  6. Marian Medvec at 2:52 pm

    Sounds like Michelle is an employee of Walgreens. I think there are enough comments on here to support the claims that Walgreens does not have your best interests at heart.

  7. Michelle Gauthier at 7:12 am

    I’ve been with Walgreens for many years and they have told me things my doctors have never told me about my prescriptions. Side effects to watch for, time of day to take them, and even twice caught that the prescription was on my allergy list. So thanks to Walgreens, they have helped me better than some of the doctors I’ve seen over the years. I have Fibromyalgia now and it’s trial and error with meds to find one that will help ease the pain. So far no issue with Walgreens filling my scripts. All pharmacies should be in tune with each other on patients because many people are addicted to pills and seek multiple doctors for pain killers and go to several pharmacies. Rather save lives than let addicts die. Doctors can’t keep track of their patients like pharmacies can. Patients lie to doctors.

  8. Marian Medvec at 9:11 pm

    What is the purpose of Walgreens, then, it if just won’t fill prescriptions arbitrarily if they don’t like the drug, as mentioned above by Chris for an Rx for oxycodone. And no reason is given. I’m sorry, but I believe my doctor has more information and credibility than a pharmacist does who is only filling the Rx that the doctor wrote. The doctor has spent an immense amount of time with me over the years and he knows what he is doing. The doctor wrote the Rx. What then does Walgreen’s do if they do not fill doctor ordered prescriptions. And where does the patient go? I would not buy a card in that store either. I hope they go out of business.

  9. Chris at 2:01 pm

    Walgreens in Connecticut, sent me a letter, that they were no longer able to fill my prescription for oxycodone. They gave no reason.

    I have a neck filled with titanium, thanks to a drunk driver, so I am not a junkie. I take the bare minimum and see an osteopath, to help with chronic spasms and headache, common with multi-level cervical fusions.

    We are villanized by everyone, and it is just wrong and mean.
    Thanks WALGREENS. You are a pharmacy, so filling prescriptions is why you’re in business. Turning a customer away, because of the drug the doctor prescribes, is super-stupid. I would not purchase a birthday card from your store after receiving that letter.

  10. Marian Medvec at 11:56 am

    I am another past customer of Walgreens. I have had problems getting my pain medications and other controlled substances filled. They give me vague reasons, such as they “are not comfortable” and of course the pharmacist never comes out of the back. I do not care if they are not comfortable. I am not comfortable. I am paying the bill. My business all goes to other stores. I think most of us abide by rules and laws that are clearly stated. I know that I do. But when I hear that even though they could fill it, they are not “comfortable,” I would like to give them a reason to be really uncomfortable, like a lawsuit.

    I am not terribly concerned about medical privacy issues because the first thing we do when going to a doctor is sign a release to the insurance company. The insurance company has no law governing how they release medical information, as far as I know. This is how corporations get medical information on prospective employees, etc., etc. You sign your application for employment, application for housing, etc., all giving them authority to obtain your medical information. That being said I think Walgreen’s counter is very counter-productive to protecting privacy, along with the people behind the counter who yell out, is this for your bladder? Really, this is a joke.

  11. Aiden Pryde at 3:40 pm

    Walgreens has lost my business. I have severe Rhuematoid Arthritis, and am in constant pain. My doctor of over 17 year has me on a pain regimen which works but the fact that they constantly treated me like an addict because of their secret checklist is a reason that I am perfectly willing to sue them for…

  12. Dennis Kinch at 11:00 am

    For 3 months in 2009 the doctors thought I had cancer and sent me to a cancer institute for treatment. I immediately had MRI’s taken and blood tests and was assigned 5 doctors to handle my case. I had 2 appointments a week and all my old doctors suddenly became very “concerned” and empathetic. Even my pharmacists were treating me differently. My meds, which hadn’t changed at all, came on time and during this 3 months, I never had to wait, never was questioned, never was thought of as an addict. All I had to say was, “I have cancer” and all was right with the world.

    It’s sad to think there is discrimination of people in pain based on their diseases, but I saw it firsthand. After the 3 months, when they figured it must be a spine disease because if it was cancer I’d be dead, everything went right back to where it was before. It was like… I was faking, then I wasn’t, then I was again! This is why my first “Walk” was titled, “I wish I had cancer!” That was 10 years ago.

    Someday, when we are believed and understood we won’t be “second class citizens” anymore.

  13. Brenda Smith at 4:06 am

    Walgreen refused to fill 14 kadian capsules. When I went I was told they did not have it rudely. I told them they had it 15 minutes ago when Dr called. He said oh, you are the one and filled it. Walgreen is Smyrna refused and refused to call others(3) Walgreen in area. I felt discrimination because of disability which is Not something I asked for. I had to drive an hour to Dr and pay for apt to get the script changed because I could not get it filled then because a doctor called? Have never been arrested and not a criminal but am handicapped so the money and problems to get the medication was unbelievable. 615-714-0306.

  14. Pharmacist steve at 1:25 pm

    Here is what a Pharmacist or tech at WAGS posted on another pharmacy focused website ..

    http://wishtv.com/2014/03/21/woman-turns-to-i-team-8-after-apparent-pharmacy-mistake/

    I would love to know what kind of staffing the RPh had when this was being done. Were they rushing the order entry review bc of low staffing levels? Walgreens runs bare bones staffing at all times and we are constantly running behind and trying to process more scripts that we safely should with the help we have. Walgreens saying they care about patient safety is crap. They care about record profits through cutting staffing and pay.

  15. Dennis Kinch at 11:31 am

    I hate to say it, but this is yet another case of “Let’s take the focus off the real issues.” I would hope that there are agencies governing Walgreen’s policies and procedures, that a group paid by labor unions needs to jump in also. It is a political ball of wax and deflects the focus away from pain patient treatment. This issue needs to be handled, no doubt, but on the list of pain patient needs, this one’s low. How about if the labor unions and the Change to Win group focused on pain patient undertreatment, or the DEA attacking legitimate users, or, the “secret list” issues, or, …it’s a pretty big list.