When the World Health Organization declared H1N1 a pandemic, the need for that vaccine spiked and production was rushed into high gear. Crawford says Walgreens' previous internal buildup to offer more flu shots and the immediate need for the H1N1 vaccine was "luck" that he leveraged into opportunity after the virus threat lessened.
In 2009, Walgreens had 17,000 certified immunizers, a retail footprint big enough to reach a signification portion of the population, and an electronic and logistics system that gave up-to-minute information on H1N1 vaccine inventory. The pandemic that scared consumers and health officials led Crawford to believe Walgreens could successfully expand its reach into healthcare even further, and today, all Walgreens pharmacists (27,000) are certified immunizers and they offer all 17 CDC-approved immunizations in approximately 40 states.
Walgreens also helped change the business side of flu shots with health insurers that didn't always include the flu vaccine as a covered benefit.
"When we first started, about 90% of all flu shots were paid for by cash," says Crawford. "Today, almost 90% are paid for by third-party payers. It's providing access to care that people didn't have before."
Crawford has also helped build a bridge with physicians, hospitals, and health systems so that the pharmacy chain would be viewed as a partner and not a threat. Among its clinical affiliations, Walgreens has collaborative care relations with Orlando Health, a nonprofit system of physician practices and hospitals that serves 1.6 million area residents; Community Health Network, another nonprofit system in central Indiana, and most notably Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore.