As ‘pharmacy wars’ intensify in Tally, consumer group alleges Walgreens model breaks law

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A union-backed advocacy group alleges in a complaint to the state’s Department of Health that Walgreens pharmacies in Florida are violating state law by allowing its pharmacists to sit at a table away from the actual pharmacy, allowing technicians to work without supervision.

The complaint comes as the legislature moves to allow the state’s governing Board of Pharmacy to increase the pharmacist-to-technician ratio.

The retail watchdog arm of Change to Win, a consumer advocacy group, alleges that the Walgreens model called “Well Experience,” breaches state law that requires continued review and “ultimate supervision” of technicians by the pharmacist who delegates the tasks.

At a number of Walgreens stores, the pharmacist sits at a desk away from the pharmacy counter, talking with customers while observing the technicians via video screen.

The complaint, filed Wednesday, states that “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 statute defines what supervision is and this isn’t following it,” said Nell Geiser, associate director of Change to Win Retail Initiatives, which is funded by labor unions.

Walgreens stores are largely non-union.

Change to Win’s complaint also alleges that its field researchers visited Walgreens locations with a “Well Experience” desk in ten Florida locations last summer, noting on several occasions “unattended patient health information, plainly visible on the pharmacist’s desk to any store customer who walked past.”

The “Well Experience” is used in 600 of Walgreen’s 8,200 stores, said Walgreens spokesman Michael Polzin. The complaint cites 15 Florida stores that Change to Win observed in its research.

“We’ve presented the plan to more than 30 state boards of pharmacy, including Florida, and been allowed to proceed in all of those states either as is or with some accommodation for a state regulation,” Polzin said.

Pending legislation would give the state’s Board of Pharmacy full authority to determine what constitutes legal supervision with regard to pharmacists and pharmacy technicians.

The board has never formally defined the term ‘direct supervision,’ according to a memo tucked inside backup material for the board’s rules committee meeting on April 1.

Language the board is considering to define supervision will allow a pharmacist to use “technological means” using the “physical or real-time act of oversight” to direct a technician, which could include a video screen, as used by Walgreens stores using “Well Experience.”

Board of Pharmacy Chairman Jeffrey Mesaros did not return a call.