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“With Databricks Lakehouse, we can create insights from data to better understand how best to engage and communicate with patients, from sharing vital information about medications to providing guidance on their journey towards a healthier life.”
— Luigi Guadagno, Vice President, Pharmacy and Healthcare Platform Technology, Walgreens
As an innovator in retail pharmacy, Walgreens uses technology and a human touch to enhance patient experiences that lead to better outcomes. Walgreens’ vision was to ensure that the right medications were always on shelves when patients needed them, and to help their pharmacists spend less time on administrative tasks like prescriptions and more time with patients. To accomplish this, they needed a scalable and secure platform that unlocks access to all their data to provide both supply chain insights as well as personalized patient information at the point of care. Using Databricks Lakehouse Platform on Azure, Walgreens created an intelligent data platform that is able to forecast demand and redistribute medications across its network of nearly 9,000 pharmacies, while delivering near real-time insights and recommendations for pharmacists to help provide more personalized advice to patients.
Harnessing data to deliver medications to million of patients
Seventy percent of Walgreens’ business comes from its pharmacy operations, where more than 825 million prescriptions are filled for millions of patients each year. That translates to tens of thousands of transactions taking place every second, and each transaction produces hundreds of helpful data points from supply chain inventory to patient behaviors.
The potential value of this data to Walgreens to help modernize and transform the patient experience was immense, but the data infrastructure supporting it did not have the ability to process it efficiently to produce actionable insights. Walgreens legacy on-premises solution was built on Teradata and Hadoop technologies that were both costly and unable to scale to support new business requirements. Models were built on old data, they could not be updated in a timely fashion, and were difficult to deploy, which made them almost obsolete to data scientists.
“There was about a 48-hour turnaround time to make the data from store operations usable and useful. Once we got it, we didn’t really have an efficient or effective way to make it all work together. There just wasn’t a way to deliver better outcomes for the people who rely on our supply chain – our patients,” said Sashi Venkatesan, Director of Product Engineering – Pharmacy and Healthcare Data at Walgreens.
Limited insights into the supply chain resulted in both online and in-store order issues and miscalculated inventory levels. Pharmacists tried to keep up with inventory on the existing demand planners, but the result was low productivity and high operational costs. Also, time-consuming prescription operations further compromised the patient experiences as pharmacists spent less time on meaningful interactions with patients. In order to empower pharmacists and pharmacies to deliver the high-quality care patients deserve, Walgreens needed a modern, reliable and scalable data solution that would serve accurate inventory insights and streamline operations so they could focus on the patient.
Enabling real-time data insights with the Lakehouse
Walgreens chose to complete their digital transformation with Microsoft Azure and the Databricks Lakehouse Platform because of its security, performance and production scale. Bringing all of Walgreens’ data (structured, unstructured and semi-structured) into the Lakehouse enabled lightning speed data insights, with horizontally scalable data engineering pipelines across petabytes of data.
Luigi Guadagno, Group Vice President, Pharmacy Healthcare Technology Platform at Walgreens, explained, “There are two components of Databricks Lakehouse Platform that really stand out. One is that we can bring so much data together into a single location, and in real time, collate it and understand it. Two is that it allows all of our different data teams to work better together. We’re getting better and smarter algorithms and generating new types of reporting that help people understand the supply chain, store labor and productivity, patient vaccine scheduling, and prescription pickup processes.”
Using Databricks Lakehouse, Walgreens built their own Information, Data, and Insights (IDI) platform on an event-based microservices architecture to accelerate and streamline prescription processes. Now, pharmacists can avoid expensive out-of-stock situations with accurate inventory numbers, and have the ability to plan and forecast based on store need across their network of nearly 9,000 locations. Walgreens is also enabling pharmacists to provide better care to patients with robust patient profiles. With the secure Databricks Lakehouse Platform, pharmacists have access to patient data alongside drug facts to drive safer drug administration. The platform notifies pharmacists of potential drug interactions, changes in drug profile, and other notes to discuss with patients during prescription refills.
“Data that comes from the store goes back to the store in a much more actionable way, and that helps us serve the patient better because we have a better understanding of who they are,” said Guadagno.
Exceeding patient needs from product supply to point-of-service
Since migrating to Databricks Lakehouse, Walgreens has optimized their supply chain by right-sizing inventory levels to save millions of dollars. Now processing 40,000 data events per second, Walgreens has the scalability to apply data insights for significant wins. Store stocking requirements are now determined by data, along with modern demand planners in updated pharmacy systems. These tools have increased productivity by 20%. Not only do data efficiencies give pharmacists more time with patients, but their data platform is also improving the quality of care they provide.
Melanie Owens, Pharmacy Manager at Walgreens, explains the improvements: “During our prescription review and verification process, we’re automatically alerted to patient allergies, drug sensitivities and drug interactions. We can also see what the drug looks like – the color and shape of the pill – which makes patients feel more comfortable taking drugs that have changed. And the look and manufacturers of drugs do change fairly often.” She goes on to say, “There’s a lot of value in the accessibility this gives people. Patients have a first line of defense to discuss their medical needs and concerns with. No matter who you are, what your insurance is, how much money you have, you’re getting clinical care, even if it’s just in a snapshot.”
Walgreens continues to build on their digital transformation with Databricks to improve the overall patient experience. Everything from care-based initiatives that enable specialized services for terminal stage breast cancer patients, to convenience improvements that reduce the number of times patients are picking up prescripts each month, Databricks is at the center of implementation. Sashi says, “We use Databricks for high-speed data in motion. It really helps us transform the speed at which we can respond to our patients’ needs either in-store or online. We have about a dozen initiatives right now and all of those are served out of the data in Databricks.”