The Cost of Education

The Cost of Education

As everyone knows Diabetic Investor is a strong advocate for patient education. As we have noted on numerous occasions patient education is the key to improving patient outcomes. Based on what we heard last week at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, this feeling was reinforced as several companies noted that they would be aggressively pursuing the diabetes market and helping patients manage their diabetes was a central part of their strategy.

While they did not present at the conference last week Walgreens (NYSE:WAG) did announce a new program they’ll be testing to help patients with Type 2 diabetes manage their diabetes. According to a press release issued by the company: “Optimal Wellness™ uses a patient-centric approach that works in concert with the patient’s primary care physician to help them more easily understand their disease. The core of the approach features a program of individual health coaching and diabetes counseling personalized to meet patients’ needs. It is based on the North Carolina Center for Pharmaceutical Care’s highly successful Asheville, N.C. diabetes care project, as well as previous Walgreens diabetes pilot education programs developed by Walgreens and Joslin Diabetes Center, a global leader in diabetes research, education and care, affiliated with Harvard Medical School.”

It’s should be no surprise that Walgreens is targeting patients with diabetes as the diabetic patient generates nearly $4,500 per year in pharmacy revenue. Additionally it’s also well known that their competition CVS Caremark (NYSE:CVS), Rite Aid (NYSE:RAD) and Wal Mart (NYSE:WMT) are also aggressively moving towards programs specifically targeted at patients with diabetes. Without question Diabetic Investor applauds these efforts particularly the Walgreens program which is based on the highly successful Asheville Project.  

Yet there is one issue that may stymie this move towards better patient education; cost. Take a look at the numbers for moment according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA) there are nearly 26 million patients with diabetes, 16 million or so who are aware they have diabetes. Of that 16 million nearly 95% have Type 2 diabetes. While the Asheville project is highly successful the program depends on a high level of personal interaction between the patient, diabetes educator and physician. As Diabetic Investor has noted before simple math tells us that as well intentioned as these efforts they cannot cost effectively reach the majority of patients. The reality is the Asheville protocol is expensive not just in terms of people but time and time is not a renewable resource.

There is no question that it takes a team to help patients better manage their diabetes however the team approach has a glaring weakness; cost. One just might think in the current economic environment companies like Walgreens would supplement their programs with the most cost effective tool around, the internet. As proved by the internet is the most cost effective method to educate patients. Programs like Healthy Outcomes also have the advantage of providing continuing education, education which can be accessed 24x7x365.

This is one of the most overlooked aspects of any team approach to diabetes management; central to their success is getting the patient to actually come into the store or office. Granted nearly 5 million people a day walk through a Walgreens, however just how much extra time is a patient willing to spend in the store to receive this education. Additionally even a company as large as Walgreens can reach only a handful of their patients given the limitations of store hours and personal.

Diabetic Investor doesn’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth and we are truly thrilled with this interest in helping patients better manage their diabetes. However we must be cognizant of the fact that this is a business and for a program to be successful over the long term it must have a solid return on investment. The fact is diabetes unfortunately isn’t going away and the last thing Diabetic Investor wants to see is a good program get pulled because it ended up being overly costly. Programs such as Optimal Wellness are a good start but it could be made even better with effective use of the internet.