For the retail pharmacy industry — as with the rest of the world — the past year has not been business as usual. Leaders from NACDS — president and CEO Steve Anderson; chair Rick Keyes, who also is president and CEO of Meijer; and vice chair and treasurer Colleen Lindholz, president of Kroger Health — came together Wednesday to discuss how the industry has risen to the occasion throughout the pandemic, and how it has highlighted pharmacy's role in health care.
“It has been a challenging, and historic time for our nation, but also for our NACDS members and for retail in general,” Anderson said at the outset of the event. Throughout, though the participants addressed how retailers, pharmacists, suppliers, and vendors have collaborated during this unprecedented healthcare crisis, to make a positive difference in Americans' lives.
Keyes also believes that the environment has "pressure tested" the business, and that using and adapting to technology, has been the key to Meijer's success amid the pandemic, and going forward.
“Growth in our digital business has been incredible. In the early stages, we could not meet the demand with the amount of shoppers we had. We are excited with what we are able to do now, from a delivery and pick up standpoint, and how we’re using technology to enable success going forward," he said. "We do hiring in a virtual way now, which took days out of the hiring process. With Shop and Scan at our stores, customers can avoid checkout lanes. We’re also utilizing pharmacy apps to handle transactions before you even come to the store, so you can pick up and leave,” he said.
Lindholz highlighted how retailers have gone beyond simply retailing and played a role in offering COVID-19 testing, something Kroger was keen to get involved with. Starting with the goal of testing 100,000 people in 12 states in a drive-thru model, Kroger outperformed its testing expectations, Lindholz said.
“We got to 170,000 people in 19 states,” she said, pointing out that Kroger also focused on a solution for its own associates. “We decided we’d apply to the FDA for an at-home test kit. That was a process I’ve never been through before. We have our own at home test kit which has been very helpful for our own associates, and to help other businesses reopen.”
For the industry, participants said that in many ways, COVID-19 has been an illuminator. Lindholz said the pandemic has been “shining the light on many different critical areas and bringing attention to the government, media and other stakeholders within the healthcare industry about the role we provide on a day to day basis for the health and wellness needs of the community. The role we played during this crisis, is one in which the pharmacist has risen to the forefront to be the provider and savior of the country. It has shown a light on the barriers that exist and can’t be ignored.”
Finally, Anderson said that the pandemic has illustrated perfectly the role that NACDS members play in society and in uniting the industry. “Our members are saving lives every day, and enhancing the lives of all Americans. They do this each and every day. That has been illustrated this year,” he said.