SAFEWAY SET FOR TEST OF PHARMACIST CARE PROGRAM

PLEASANTON, Calif. -- Safeway here will be the first retail chain to test Bergen Brunswig's new PatientPlus program, a pharmacist care service intended to improve drug compliance among customers.The decision to implement testing of the program comes as Safeway renews its exclusive supply agreement with the Orange, Calif.-based drug and medical-equipment distributor.Bergen said it expects to generate

PLEASANTON, Calif. -- Safeway here will be the first retail chain to test Bergen Brunswig's new PatientPlus program, a pharmacist care service intended to improve drug compliance among customers.

The decision to implement testing of the program comes as Safeway renews its exclusive supply agreement with the Orange, Calif.-based drug and medical-equipment distributor.

Bergen said it expects to generate more than $1 billion in revenues through the new two-year contract.

Safeway, which completed its acquisition of Vons Cos. in April, operates 585 pharmacies under the Safeway and Vons banners in the United States.

A source familiar with the agreement said the test will take place only in "specific stores in high-opportunity areas," and that the duration and number of stores are as yet uncertain.

The source added that, prior to the Safeway-Bergen deal, the distributor had tested Patient Plus in only a limited number of customer locations in southern California, and it was unclear whether the program was viable in a chain environment.

In a prepared statement, Rich Cancilla, Safeway's vice president of corporate pharmacy operations, said, "We are enthusiastic about the opportunities PatientPlus offers, such as providing pharmacies with employee training and disease-based category management strategies designed to help pharmacists become premier patient care specialists."

Under the agreement, Bergen will help Safeway pharmacies implement protocols for disease-management documentation, outcomes measurement and reimbursement. According to a PatientPlus brochure aimed at consumers, the program will focus on the management of asthma, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and chronic pain resulting from injury or arthritis.

The brochure touts the program as a "service that goes beyond filling prescriptions," its goal "to help you stay healthy and get the best results from all your medication, prescription or non-prescription.

"PatientPlus means your pharmacist is there . . . to find and correct any medication problems, help you manage chronic conditions like diabetes and asthma and educate you about your health in general."

Bergen developed the methodology used in PatientCare with the help of the University of Southern California School of Pharmacy.

Safeway's decision to test PatientPlus comes at a time when major pharmaceutical wholesalers like Bergen and Dublin, Ohio-based Cardinal Health -- the two plan to merge, pending Federal Trade Commission approval -- are looking to expand the role they play in their customers' businesses.

Pharmacist-care programs like PatientPlus are gaining favor not only with retailers but with managed-care organizations as well, for whom patient drug compliance is a pressing issue. Industry studies in the United States estimate annual costs resulting from the misuse of medication are as high as $100 billion.