Walgreens taps physician as medical chief

In another clear sign of the dramatic revolution under way within retail pharmacy, Walgreens has hired a physician to fill a new and unprecedented post within the company: chief medical officer.

Walgreens named Cheryl Pegus, a physician and clinical practice veteran, to the post in early May. Pegus, 46, reports to Hal Rosenbluth, SVP and president of the company’s health-and-wellness division.

Pegus has more than 18 years of clinical practice and industry experience, more recently as general manager and chief medical officer for SymCare Personalized Health Solutions, which provides care management services using remote monitoring. At Walgreens, her focus will be on “driving clinical outcomes that improve patient lives, provide value and offer a platform for future innovation and growth,” according to the company.

The hiring of a physician to drive big-picture, cost-effective health goals was a striking—but perhaps inevitable—step for the nation’s top drug chain, which is well into the second year of a massive campaign to become a fully integrated, full-service health-and-wellness provider to employers and other health plan payers. It’s also a sign of the increasing integration of the healthcare model being pursued by Walgreens and such other pharmacy innovators as CVS Caremark and Kerr Drug, as they broaden their focus beyond basic prescription services and even disease management, and include successful patient outcomes, integrated community care and disease prevention.

“We’re very excited to appoint Cheryl to lead Walgreens’ effort in clinical outcomes,” Rosenbluth said. “Her depth of experience in analytics and research, clinical product development, and chronic care management will help position Walgreens to deliver high-quality, accessible and low-cost innovative care solutions to payers, employers and consumers. That includes the potential for new diagnostic screenings and other point-of-care services at pharmacies, retail clinics and work-site health centers that can develop an ongoing relationship between patients and Walgreens,” he added.

As such, one of Pegus’ tasks will be to effectively knock down whatever remains of the silo structure that formerly separated Walgreens’ various health, pharmacy and clinical capabilities. For more than a year, the company has touted its “8,000 points of care” as a comprehensive, cost-effective solution for a fractured healthcare system desperately in need of solutions; the addition of a highly regarded physician in a key decision-making role could help bring that scenario to full flower and extend Walgreens’ reach as an accessible health-and-wellness solutions provider.

Pegus brings some solid experience. At SymCare, she was charged with furthering the company’s mission “to control healthcare spending by making consumer engagement simpler and more rewarding,” according to Walgreens. Prior to joining SymCare in 2007, Pegus was head of clinical products for Aetna’s Medical Products business unit, responsible for developing, prioritizing and articulating the company’s clinical product strategy. Between 1996 and 2001, she was medical director for the Cardiovascular Risk Factors Group at Pfizer Pharmaceuticals in New York. She is a member of the board of directors of the Founders Affiliate of the American Heart Association, the dean’s circle at Weill Cornell Medical College and the editorial advisory board of Disease Management Advisor.