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Food and pharmacy in one: What is the state of the supermarket pharmacy business?

Supermarket pharmacy executives weigh in on the health of their business and the industry as a whole.

The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in a heightened sense of awareness among consumers about the importance of taking better care of their health. Grocers with pharmacies are responding to customers’ new consciousness by investing in and expanding their pharmacies’ services to become health destinations.

In fact, The Food Marketing Institute’s 2021 Report on Retailer Contributions to Health and Well-being shows that grocery stores have indeed made significant investments to expand their role as community destinations for health and well-being. Eighty-four percent of respondents said their company has an established health and well-being strategy, and 84% of retailers report their company offers health and well-being activities for both employees and customers, an increase from 49% in 2019. 

Moreover, the report found that 54% of pharmacists, dietitians and other healthcare practitioners collaborate to enhance and develop new health and well-being programs for food retailers — up from 42% in 2019. “The role of the retail pharmacist and retail registered dietitian has never been more important,” said Krystal Register, director of health and well-being at FMI.

The Food Marketing Institute’s 2021 Report on Retailer Contributions to Health and Well-being found that 54% of pharmacists, dietitians and other healthcare practitioners collaborate to enhance and develop new health and well-being programs for food retailers — up from 42% in 2019.

DSN asked several supermarket pharmacy executives to weigh in on the state of their supermarket pharmacy business. Their responses echo Register’s sentiments and shed light on the opportunities that exist for supermarket pharmacies and their pharmacists in the future.

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Tim Kaylor, clinical pharmacy specialist at The Giant Company:  The Giant Company has 133 pharmacies across Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. 

We’re committed to creating healthier communities, and do so through a variety of health offerings. Our primary offering is our pharmacy department, which meets the prescription medication and vaccination needs of the customers we serve. Pharmacists in all of our 133 pharmacies are available to answer questions and support our customers. Pharmacies offer services like vaccinations, prescription delivery, medication synchronization, text notifications and a pharmacy app. We’ve also been a community partner in combating the COVID-19 pandemic, offering vaccinations in our stores and out in the communities we serve. 

Additionally, we have a team of registered dietitians who provide free virtual nutrition classes presented live throughout the week on various nutrition topics. For example, the Family Meals at 5 series provides viewers with step-by-step instructions on how to cook an easy and affordable dinner with one of the dietitians in under 30 minutes. Class topics change monthly based on the season and participant feedback.  

In addition, the dietitians engage with their local communities through outreach opportunities, such as lunch-and-learn presentations, health fairs and more.

[Read more: Giant releases community impact report]

Marc Watkins, chief medical officer of Kroger Health: We have 2,200 pharmacies in 35 states plus the District of Columbia. In conjunction with the Biden administration, we’ve been able to join the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, where pharmacy brands, including Kroger, have been able to deliver millions of vaccines and also take part in providing testing. We’ve had the ability to continue to deliver convenient, trusted health care right in the community. But we can’t sit on our laurels and look at vaccines and testing as the only types of things that we do.

We understand that coming out of this pandemic we have to continue to partner with other healthcare entities to help with screenings and surveillance. We know that health management is a huge concern for many people around the country. How do we leverage some of the things we’re doing at Kroger, such as using dietitian services and medication management and medication therapy solutions? We’re looking at making sure people are adherent and compliant with their medications. 

Randy Edeker, chairman and CEO of Hy-Vee: Hy-Vee has 273 retail pharmacy locations across Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

[Read more: Hy-Vee dietitians to host events in May for people following gluten-free diet]

Hy-Vee provides the classic health offerings of a traditional grocer and elite drug store, combined with new and trending offerings to meet our customers’ needs wherever they are on their health journey.

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David Carmouche, senior vice president, omnichannel care, Walmart Health & Wellness: Health care is not new to Walmart. Fifteen years ago, we revolutionized the healthcare industry when we launched the $4 generic drug price program, and today we operate 5,100 Walmart and Sam’s Club pharmacies in the United States, including Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.

Our Walmart Health & Wellness strategy is to be an integrated, omnichannel healthcare provider that leverages data, technology and our unique assets to improve engagement, health equity and outcomes. By using all of our existing assets together — from fresh food, to pharmacies, to telehealth, to clinics — we are able to care for our customers when and where they need care, in the way that works best for them.

[Read more: Walmart launches Mental Health First Aid training program]

Walmart Health was first launched in 2019 to provide a range of healthcare services for customers at transparent prices, and we’ve since expanded in Georgia, Illinois, Arkansas and Florida. 

Omer Gajial, executive vice president of pharmacy and health at Albertsons:  Albertsons operates 2,278 retail food and drug stores with 1,722 pharmacies. The company operates stores across 34 states and the District of Columbia under more than 20 well-known banners, including Albertsons, Safeway, Vons, Jewel-Osco, Shaw’s, Acme, Tom Thumb, Randalls, United Supermarkets, Pavilions, Star Market, Haggen, Carrs, Kings Food Markets and Balducci’s Food Lover’s Market.

During the pandemic, our pharmacists and staff have been on the front lines providing essential healthcare services, including immunizations and health screenings. To date, Albertsons Companies’ pharmacists have administered 7,000 COVID-19 immunizations per store, accounting for more than 12 million COVID-19 vaccine doses. We continue to expand affordable access to healthy meals by accepting supplemental benefits that can be used to purchase fresh produce and wellness products at our stores.

[Read more: Albertsons accepting supplemental health benefits for fresh food, wellness purchases]

Katie Thornell, director of pharmacy operations at Stop & Shop:  Stop & Shop Pharmacy operates over 250 in-store pharmacy locations across Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island.

“We understand that coming out of this pandemic we have to continue to partner with other healthcare entities to help with screenings and surveillance. We know that health management is a huge concern for many people around the country.” — Marc Watkins, chief medical officer of Kroger Health
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Kaylor: Our pharmacies have several new services our customers can take advantage of, including delivery, patients can get their medication needs as soon as the same day they are called in; vaccine scheduling, besides offering walk-ins, customers can now schedule an appointment for the vaccine they need ahead of time; Giant Rx Scheduler and Giant Pharmacy Scheduler; and Martin’s Rx Scheduler and Martin’s Pharmacy Scheduler. 

The Giant Company will be expanding health offerings by partnering with our dietitian and pharmacy teams to present unique health services in our stores. We also are partnering with community organizations to bring healthcare-related education to our communities. For instance, we’re currently working with UPMC Health Plan to offer free heart health classes at select stores. These classes include health screenings that test for cholesterol, blood pressure, etc., as well as other unique heart health-centered programs like cooking with a cardiologist. 

Watkins: We focus on how we can lean in and really help with our dietitian team to address some of the issues around diabetes, especially with food and the state of prediabetes. There are things the pharmacy and clinics can do in conjunction to help patients to prevent progression from prediabetes to diabetes, and also help manage patients effectively if they do have diabetes.

We’re looking at expanding on our commitment of improving five outcomes through our Food as Medicine strategy with obesity, diabetes, food insecurity, cost savings for healthier foods and an assortment of healthier SKUs. With diabetes, we want to scale our hemoglobin A1C point-of-care testing in our pharmacies.

[Read more: Kroger Health to increase COVID-19 treatment option access]

Edeker: Hy-Vee has introduced several new patient-facing services over the past 18 months, including:

  • Virtual dietitian services, which are offered via the Healthie desktop platform and mobile app, including free virtual store tours, meal prep classes and more; 
  • Vitamine, a national vitamin and supplement service that specializes in personalized vitamins that can be shipped directly to customers’ doors;
  • Wholelotta Good, a ship-to-home e-commerce site that offers customers a full range of dietitian-approved health and specialty products;
  • Vivid Clear Rx, a Hy-Vee subsidiary, which offers up to 80% savings on prescription medications via its free VCRx savings card;
  • RedBoxRx, which provides low-cost telehealth and online pharmacy services, and ships prescribed treatments directly to patients’ homes;
  • Mobile Vaccination Units: Hy-Vee has long had a fleet of Hy-Vee Healthy You mobile buses that enable us to provide on-site vaccination and health fair services. To complement those, we now have 30 mobile vaccination units throughout our eight-state region beginning this spring; and
  • Amber Specialty Pharmacy, which offers home infusion services on a broader basis since helping to lead the way for administration of monoclonal antibody treatments via in-home infusions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 
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Carmouche: Between April and June 2022, we are expanding the reach of Walmart Health by opening the doors to five new Walmart Health locations across Florida. Customer experience is our top priority, so we’ll continue to partner with local organizations and community leaders where it makes sense to ensure we’re able to deliver great care to our customers.

Gajial: In response to increasing complexity of domestic and global travel, our pharmacies have taken on a larger role in travel health services. Many of our locations now staff travel medicine specialists who can help customers navigate the required and recommended immunizations or medications necessary for travel abroad. One thousand two hundred of our pharmacies offer walk-in and scheduled COVID-19 testing available for travel, work and event attendance purposes.

In addition to on-demand COVID-19 testing, Albertsons pharmacies now provide point-of-care testing for seasonal flu and diagnostics/treatment for strep throat, thyroid function, cholesterol and more. Our pharmacy teams assist customers with next steps in addressing the issue and taking care of their health, including appropriate referrals to healthcare providers.

Thornell: With the PREP Act, we saw an expansion in the services that pharmacists were able to provide in support of their communities, such as performing COVID testing. In some areas, such as New York, legislation has passed that allows some of these expanded healthcare offerings to remain, even after the PREP Act ends. In New York, we are now proud to offer immunizations that protect against measles (MMR), hepatitis A and B, and HPV, which pharmacists were previously restricted from administering by regulations in New York.  

We have continued to work with federal and local public health officials to ensure we are able to meet the needs of our communities with a continuous supply of all COVID vaccines, and more recently, carrying COVID antiviral prescription medications to dispense in New York and Connecticut.

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Kaylor: The Giant Company is addressing social determinants of health by getting involved directly in our communities to meet individual needs. We have stores in many diverse neighborhoods all presenting their own unique challenges. On the front lines of health care in the communities they serve, our pharmacy team aids in identifying and addressing local needs. For example, many communities we serve faced difficulties getting COVID-19 vaccinations. Through education, outreach and vaccination clinics, we were able to reach a broader audience.   

Watkins: Supermarkets and retailers remained open at the height of the pandemic when many health systems and doctors’ offices were closed. We learned from that situation that we need to remain open and remove barriers that limit access to care for people who may not have access to healthy, nutritious foods. How do we partner with our omnichannel delivery chain to deliver healthy, nutritious foods to zip codes around the country? At the height of the pandemic, we partnered with Lyft so people could get a ride from home, work or school to one of our pharmacies to get a shot and then get a ride home. We’re looking to further double down on addressing transportation issues by partnering with public transportation organizations and municipalities that can help us provide people with free rides to one of our stores to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

[Read more: PQA rolls out Social Determinants of Health Resource Guide]

We’re also addressing food insecurity by partnering with health plans and other entities to personalize food boxes that are shipped every month directly to customers’ and patients’ homes. In the boxes, we include health pantry staple items and Food as Medicine educational products, which includes recipes and tips on how to stay healthy today and in the future. 

Edeker: We have affordable telehealth provider visits with low-cost prescription medications in RedBoxRx. In addition, our retail pharmacy’s $4 prescription list has saved our customers millions, and it is more important than ever. Moreover, our Vivid Clear Rx discount prescription card launched during the past year. And our mobile vaccination units will be focused in underserved areas to improve accessibility to vaccines. We also are taking advantage of pharmacy scope-of-practice changes in some of the states we operate in to move forward with “test and treat.”

Additionally, the Hy-Vee KidsFit program is re-energized and has become a staple for many families and schools in the communities we serve. Hy-Vee KidsFit Club provides free, high-quality and relevant health education that fits customer needs through newsletters, videos and online resources.

“Some of our longest-standing Walmart Health locations are starting to see a shift from primary care visits to chronic condition management as patients embrace preventive care.” — David Carmouche, senior vice president, omnichannel care, Walmart Health & Wellness

Carmouche: We often say zip code is more important than your genetic code when it comes to health. Many of the underserved communities we serve don’t have adequate access to health care, but they do have a Walmart pharmacy staffed by a pharmacist or pharmacy technician who understands local health needs. With nearly 4,000 of Walmart locations located within one or more of HRSA’s designated Medically Underserved Areas, there is an opportunity for us to make a real impact. We do this through offering affordable, fresh groceries and wellness items, plus in-store wellness days where our pharmacists administer health screenings (4.4 million to date) and vaccinations. Walmart Health offers primary care and educational preventive healthcare resources based on local health needs. An example is the HabitNu diabetes management program in Chicago.

Some of our longest-standing Walmart Health locations are starting to see a shift from primary care visits to chronic condition management as patients embrace preventive care.

Gajial: Our commitment is to make COVID-19 testing and vaccinations convenient and accessible in the many neighborhoods we serve. Recently, that’s meant offering second-round booster doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Customers with Medicare Part B coverage, including those enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, are now able to get free COVID-19 rapid tests at our pharmacies. Through our partnership with Cue Health, launched this spring, we now offer highly accurate, convenient and fast molecular COVID-19 tests, with lab-quality results delivered in 20 minutes. In many cities we have pharmacy delivery for customers who want to get their medications without leaving their home.

Read more: Stop & Shop pharmacies in New York offering COVID-19 antiviral medication]

Thornell: One program we hope to reinvigorate is our Health Screening and Community Event programs. At these events, we offer blood pressure screenings, blood glucose and cholesterol, where permitted by state regulations, and are currently exploring A1C offerings for patients. We have formed a strong partnership with Stop & Shop’s newly formed dietitian team, and moving forward, our strategy includes unified education and recommendations from our health experts.

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Kaylor: We have new vaccination schedulers and the Rx app. The pharmacy section of our website and Rx app both offer prescription management to customers. The Rx app also includes a health library section with high-level information on various health topics. These are great options that our customers appreciate because they save time and make their lives easier. 

A new technology that the dietitian team encourages customers to explore is FlashFood. It’s an easy way for customers to save money on produce, meat, dairy and more, as well as reduce food waste. Just download the free app, browse the selection available at our nearest location, purchase directly on the app and pick up at the FlashFood zone near customer service.

[Read more: Kroger Health’s ‘Food as Medicine’ platform recognized by University of Cincinnati study]

Watkins: We leverage our telenutrition appointments with our dietitians to address chronic disease and conditions like obesity, which we know is a significant driver of health concerns, especially with prediabetes. We can connect you with one of our licensed healthcare providers on our telehealth appointments so that our NPs and other healthcare providers can be ready and able to treat you. 

Kroger’s Welsana Diabetes Prevention program pairs customers with Welsana health coaches who leverage technology, such as texting to your personal mobile device. They also provide monthly phone calls from coaches, who help you pick the right foods and the right amount of exercise, and teach you how to get better sleep. They also prescribe a personalized nutrition support plan. We are helping people understand that when you get real time actionable data, you can personalize this to get the solutions that work for you.

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We’ve also made tremendous enhancements to our own reporting and enterprise software solutions in our pharmacies, which allows insights into what’s happening with our patients in real time. 

Edeker: In December 2021, Hy-Vee announced a partnership with En-Vision America to offer ScripTalk talking prescription labels at our more than 275 retail pharmacies. The free talking prescription labels are available in 26 languages to visually and print-impaired patients. Using En-Vision America’s ScripTalk product, Hy-Vee pharmacists are able to program and place a small electronic tag on the prescription package, typically located on the bottom of the bottle. The tag contains all of the prescription label information. By scanning the label with either a ScripTalk reader (provided to each patient at no cost) or the free ScripTalk mobile app, patients can have all of their information read aloud. This information includes drug name, dosage, instructions, warnings, pharmacy information, doctor’s name, prescription number, date and more. ScripTalk can assist patients with low vision, blindness, dyslexia or other reading disabilities.

[Read more: Walmart Health intros telehealth diabetes program for employers, payers]

Carmouche: Our acquisition of MeMD allows us to provide telehealth services to more Americans, bridging the gap between in-person and digital solutions to our customers across our offerings. We’re also rolling out Epic’s technology across our Walmart Health centers, which will help deliver a more seamless and personalized healthcare experience for patients and providers.

Gajial: During the pandemic, we created a scheduling tool that made it easier for millions to book appointments and receive their COVID-19 vaccines and boosters. This online tool can be used to book appointments for other vaccines, including flu, pneumonia, tetanus and shingles. Additionally, customers can access, view and save their digital vaccine record as proof of full COVID-19 vaccination.

Thornell: Our Immunization Scheduler allows patients to book their preferred vaccine, whether COVID, flu or other non-flu immunizations and even fill out their informed consent for a contactless experience in store. The Stop & Shop Pharmacy mobile app shows recent vaccine history of immunizations provided at our pharmacy, and it allows patients to manage their family’s medications to see what’s ready and to request refills. The app can be downloaded directly from your smart phone’s app store.

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