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Albertsons named Drug Store News Pharmacy Innovator of the Year 2022

Supermarket chain takes patient care and pharmacy services to new heights during critical time for retail pharmacy.

From offering point-of-care testing to offering a specialty medicine platform for mental health, Albertsons Companies, which operates 2,272 retail food and drug stores with 1,722 pharmacies, has emerged as a frontrunner during one of the most challenging times for pharmacies. 

The Boise, Idaho-based company’s banner stores include Safeway, Albertsons, Acme, Vons, Pavilions, Jewel-Osco, Shaw’s, Tom Thumb and United Supermarkets. 

Albertsons’ focus on providing patient-centric, integrated healthcare services and its strategic partnerships aimed at eliminating healthcare accessibility barriers and improving outcomes are among the reasons Albertsons has been named the 2022 Drug Store News Pharmacy Innovator of the Year.

One of the company’s strengths, according to Omer Gajial, chief digital officer and executive vice president of health, is its frontline associates and their deep commitment to the health and well-being of the customers and communities that Albertsons serve.  

One just has to take a close look at how Albertsons’ pharmacists and technicians stepped up in the unchartered waters of the COVID-19 pandemic to see this commitment. “They were on the front lines at more than 1,700 pharmacy locations providing essential and lifesaving healthcare services,” Gajial said, noting that the company’s pharmacists have administered nearly 16 million COVID-19 immunizations to patients across the country. 

“In this post-pandemic environment, we are continuing to invest in technology and patient services while expanding and improving our customer experience to provide quality patient-centric, integrated health care to our communities.”
- Tony DalPonte, general vice president of pharmacy, Albertsons

“During the pandemic, we were able to demonstrate our deep commitment to taking care of neighbors and communities,” added Tony DalPonte, general vice president of pharmacy. “We saw what our patients needed and responded with timely and effective solutions.” 

In addition to providing access to COVID-19 testing and vaccinations, in many cities, Albertsons began offering pharmacy delivery to customers. “We also continued to expand affordable access to healthier meals by accepting supplemental benefits that can be used to purchase fresh produce and wellness products at our stores,” DalPonte said.

Pointing out that the pandemic accelerated technological improvements from a customer and staff experience perspective, DalPonte said, “We began building digital solutions for customers to access healthcare services during the pandemic. In this post-pandemic environment, we are continuing to invest in technology and patient services while expanding and improving our customer experience to provide quality patient-centric, integrated health care to our communities.”

Albertsons’ digital solutions include launching a new digital platform this year, which enables pharmacy customers to refill, transfer and manage their prescriptions from its unified mobile grocery app. Customers also can pay and get their prescriptions delivered through the digital platform. 

Additionally, Albertsons created a scheduling tool that makes it easier for patients to book appointments and receive COVID-19 vaccines and boosters, as well as vaccines for flu, pneumonia, tetanus and shingles. 

“To date, 40% of COVID-19 vaccines have been scheduled using the scheduler, which reduces customer wait and paper waste and creates more time for our frontline staff to offer care solutions,” said Srisankar Kunniyur, vice president of product management, pharmacy and health. 

[Read more: Albertsons offers pet parents money-saving prescriptions, healthcare services]

albertsons pharmacist

Customers also can book appointments for up to five immunizations together using the online scheduler, which also sorts and recommends vaccines that are relevant by age. In the scheduler patients may request to pick up home antigen COVID-19 tests as part of their vaccine appointment.  

“We know that individuals and families have busy lives and are sometimes juggling many roles and responsibilities, so we doubled-down on our efforts to develop convenient, customer-centric online web and app experiences that seamlessly integrates our pharmacy offerings into our grocery app, making it easy and more convenient for our patients to schedule vaccinations, COVID-19 tests and medication refills, as well as prescription transfers,” said Francisco Bram, vice president of marketing health, pharmacy and nutrition. “This eliminates the need for customers to manage two separate apps while engaging with our stores and pharmacies.”

The new digital experience enables customers to access their prescription medication history, enroll in automatic refills and schedule reminders for when to take their medicine and access medication-specific information such as medication guides and drug interactions. “To encourage customers to stay protected and up to date with their health needs while alleviating some of the burden of rising food prices, we began offering rewards that can be redeemed both digitally and in store,” Bram said.

Additionally, for every immunization received at an Albertsons pharmacy, recipients receive 10% off a future grocery purchase, with up to $20 off, and access to a free digital vaccine record. In many states, Albertsons also offers digital coupons of up to $75 off groceries to eligible customers who transfer and fill their scripts consistently with its pharmacies. 

“Our long-term vision will be to expand these digital rewards to more health and wellness services, encouraging customers to manage their overall health more effectively and with ease,” Bram said.

Albertsons also has been incorporating innovative technology solutions to help support its pharmacists and staff so that they have the time they need to focus on patient care services.

“Through centralized prescription processing, we introduced additional support for our pharmacy teams,” Kunniyur said. “For example, many non-patient facing tasks, such as typing and checking prescriptions, can now be completed centrally to allow pharmacists to focus on providing high-quality care to our patients.” 

[Read more: Kroger to acquire Albertsons for $24.6B]

albertsons pharmacist vaccine

Albertsons also has responded to the needs of patients with complex chronic conditions by creating a streamlined and customer-focused specialty care platform to meet the needs of its patients and provider partners. “Patients can visualize where their medication is in the specialty care process,” Gajial said. 

Patients also can gain insights into prior authorization statuses and obtain co-pay and foundation assistance, and they also are connected to a care coordinator from the convenience of their phone. “Providers can access real-time patient updates on specialty care therapies as well as utilize a two-way messaging system with our care coordinators,” Gajial said. 

“We understand the healthcare needs of our patients who are living with complex conditions such as cystic fibrosis, inflammatory bowel, migraine, mental health, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and substance abuse recovery,” said Erin Shaal, vice president of specialty pharmacy and procurement. “We offer personalized support, expert pharmaceutical care and comprehensive medical administration services and medication-specific programs to help make it easier for our patients, as well as caregivers, to manage their health.”

Albertsons delivers these prescriptions to the patient’s door, their local Albertsons pharmacy or  their prescriber’s office. The company also provides proactive refill reminders, identifies adherence barriers and helps with patient-tailored adherence aids. “In addition, Albertsons helps patients navigate their insurance by providing expert advice to keep out-of-pocket costs low and coordinate financial assistance, if needed,” Shaal said.

The ability to form strategic partnerships aimed at reducing accessibility barriers is another area in which Albertsons excels, as evidenced by a recent partnership with WinnCompanies, a leader in affordable, mixed-income and market-rate housing that will bring essential services directly to more than 133,000 residents across 520 properties nationally. The collaboration will provide on-site vaccination opportunities as well as prescriptions and groceries to seniors and families. 

Another prime example is a partnership in Arizona with Native American Connections, an organization based in the Southwest region that assists with multiple tribal nations and touches about 10,000 lives. “As part of the partnership, our pharmacies assist by dispensing and delivering recovery injectable medications to their inpatient recovery facilities in Phoenix. We also are reaching out to patients living in more remote areas by making it easy for them to transfer their prescriptions and establish continuity of care,” Gajial said. 

Beyond these innovations, Albertsons is leading the pack when it comes to telehealth services and the company has entered several partnerships to stand out in this area. 

[Read more: Retailers ramp up initiatives to drive equity, diversity and sustainability]

“Albertsons helps patients navigate their insurance by providing expert advice to keep out-of-pocket costs low and coordinate financial assistance, if needed.”
— Erin Shaal, vice president of specialty pharmacy and procurement.

Telehealth services include general care, chronic care, behavioral health, children’s health and more. In addition to customized treatment plans, patients can request prescriptions to be sent electronically to any of the company’s local pharmacies. 

“We understand the importance and value of patient relationships with care providers and strive to build relationships with and connect our customers to local care and providers whenever possible,” Gajial said. “Our partnerships are key to helping us provide quality healthcare services and more options that fit our patients’ needs. In addition, our partnerships help us to provide access and convenience for those in the communities we serve.” 

To that end, Albertsons is partnering with a prominent local health system in Washington state to offer convenient, on-demand virtual care services. Customers can connect with a nurse practitioner within minutes to discuss possible COVID-19-related symptoms, general care, chronic care and behavioral health. 

Additionally, Albertsons launched a telemedicine initiative this past summer in Washington state, for which people who have tested positive for COVID-19 can receive prescriptions for therapeutics. 

albertsons pharmacist medication

“To operationalize this effort, we are working with one of their partners to offer prescription pickup. The goal of the effort is to bring equity to community care, specifically rural areas where in-person visits may be more challenging,” Gajial said. 

If that weren’t enough, Albertsons also has two partnerships that provide substance use recovery medication administration services for telehealth providers within select communities. “Our two partners offer telehealth consults, and then they send patient referrals to our specialty care teams. We then coordinate with the patient and their insurance to have the medication covered and administered at our pharmacy,” Gajial said. 

“Through one of our key partnerships, we are able to offer personalized, on-demand virtual care for our patients. It’s convenient and easy to schedule on our website. Patients can get connected to a board-certified healthcare professional in minutes without leaving their home,” Gajial said. 

Albertsons recently piloted mobile vet clinics in Texas to provide exams and low-cost vaccinations for dogs and cats, and it has partnered with a pet telehealth program in California, offering customers a reduced subscription rate that includes 24/7 telehealth consultations with licensed veterinarians and monthly store credit on pet products for the first year.

Albertsons’ expansion into pet health also includes the ability for its pharmacists nationwide to fill pet prescriptions, including veterinary-grade medications, and the company offers customers a free Pet Health Savings Card for pet medications. 

Additional areas in which Albertsons has expanded include mental health and substance use recovery services for patients, including long-acting injectables in a stigma-free environment. 

The company also offers travel vaccinations and travel medications prior to traveling overseas, at convenient times, including evenings and weekends. 

It has expanded its prescriptive services in its pharmacies, depending on state allowances, to offer strep and flu treatment prescribing, naloxone, birth control prescribing, PREP/PEP services, cold sore treatment and UTI medications.

[Read more: Albertsons invests in pharmacy to support comprehensive immunization access] 

albertsons vaccination clinic

Albertsons is a standout in providing point-of-care testing for seasonal flu and diagnostics/treatment for strep throat, thyroid function, cholesterol and more. “Our pharmacy teams can assist customers with the next steps in addressing the issue and taking care of their health, including appropriate referrals to healthcare providers,” Gajial said.

Lastly, Albertsons’ pharmacists play a role in helping patients in the grocery store.

Earlier this year, the company announced that customers can now use supplemental benefits to purchase over-the-counter medications and fresh produce in its banner stores. This program provides convenient access to customers using prepaid cards funded by Medicare Advantage plans, employer incentives, healthcare providers or local governments. “Our pharmacists also are available to assist shoppers with their health and pharmacy needs by providing recommendations and consultations on OTC medications,” Gajial said. 

With so many hours in a day and a goal to offer patients access to a plethora of services, training has become an essential key to Albertsons pharmacies’ operations.

The company trains its pharmacy technicians so they are able to assist pharmacists by administering vaccines, assisting in the prescription filling process, preparing for clinical consultation services and providing point-of-care testing in several states. 

“They are an invaluable resource for our patients while also enabling our pharmacists to spend more time caring for patients,” Gajial said.

Trevor Ennis, vice president of human resources, pharmacy and health, said that Albertsons provides enhanced pharmacist and technician training programs to understand the day-to-day operations of its pharmacies but to also encourage and grow leadership and management skills.

“Our pharmacists and technicians receive immunization training and CPR training, and we are proud to provide medication administration enhanced training for our pharmacists to administer long-acting injectable therapies,” Ennis said.

Albertsons’ pharmacy intern programs help develop PharmD students while in pharmacy school. And its post-graduate residency programs help educate and train pharmacists in patient care, leadership and management, advancement of practice, teaching, education and dissemination of knowledge. 

[Read more: Retailers retool loyalty efforts for new era]

albertsons pharmacist medication web

Lastly, supporting pharmacists is crucial to Albertsons’ success in enabling them to provide the full range of services to patients. 

“We continue working on simplifying the workflows of our pharmacists to increase the time spent by the pharmacists on patient care and prescriptive services,” DalPonte added. 

Albertsons also supports its pharmacy teams by providing clinical service guides, training and implementation information for every clinical program initiated. 

“We listen to our frontline staff through roundtables and, as a result, we work to continuously make improvements at our pharmacies,” Gajial said. “We share best practices among our banner stores across the country to constantly improve our clinical practices and work environment. We empower our pharmacists to work to the top of their licensure and be recognized as an integral part of the healthcare team.” 

What does the future hold for Albertsons’ pharmacies?

The company’s goals, Gajial said, include providing 50 million evidence-based nutrition recommendations to digital customers by 2024 to help them make healthier choices while shopping with Albertsons banner stores, and launching six health campaigns by 2025 to increase awareness of MyPlate Dietary Guidelines, established by the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. 

“We recognize that Albertsons’ pharmacies play a vital and expanding role in our healthcare system and the health of our communities across the country,” Gajial said. “Our focus is to continue building a patient-centric, integrated healthcare business that unlocks convenient care, access and affordability for millions of Americans.”

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