Not your grandmother’s supermarket pharmacy

Supermarket pharmacies are taking their healthcare offerings to new heights.
Sandra Levy
Senior Editor

When the pandemic hit, supermarket pharmacies responded with supersonic speed, offering COVID vaccines and testing, curbside pickup and home delivery, while simultaneously maintaining their myriad clinical responsibilities. In the post COVID environment, they are continuing to innovate to care for their customers, who have a new mindset when it comes to staying healthy. With expanded pharmacy services and a vast array of nutritious foods under one roof, they have an exceptional opportunity to become healthcare destinations. 

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

What’s more, consumers are increasingly interested in receiving health care from supermarket pharmacies, as evidenced by a recent Advantage Solutions’ Pulse Survey conducted among 1,000 respondents: 4 in 10 say they’re likely to visit a health clinic at a supermarket.

DSN asked several supermarket pharmacy executives to weigh in on the state of their business. Their responses open a window on the vast opportunities that exist for supermarket pharmacies to serve as healthcare destinations.  

[Read more: Hy-Vee unveils Hy-Vee Healthy You subscription service]

kroger health
Kroger Health’s healthcare teams provide a suite of services and support in-store and online.
kroger health
Kroger Health’s healthcare teams provide a suite of services and support in-store and online.

Question 1: What patient-facing services are your supermarket pharmacies offering?

Marc Watkins, chief medical officer at Kroger Health: Kroger Health and the Kroger Family of Pharmacies operate more than 2,200 pharmacies in 35 states. We offer  expert and credible healthcare services conveniently available to customers in their hometown grocery store. Our team of healthcare professionals, including pharmacists, nurse practitioners and registered dietitians, provide a robust suite of services and support both in-store and online. Customers can engage with services including meeting with a registered dietitian in-store, online telenutrition appointments, access to clinical trials, routine vaccine administration, COVID-19 services and other various health screenings and tests. Our retail health clinics, known as The Little Clinics, provide high-quality, affordable health care in select Kroger and affiliate stores. Our licensed healthcare practitioners can perform a myriad of services for patients 12 months and older, including giving vaccines, providing annual preventive screenings, performing physicals for school or work, diagnosing and treating many common skin conditions and rashes, treating insect bites or stings, plus diagnosing minor illnesses, including infections. 

Leigh Shirley, director of pharmacy operations at The Giant Co.: Giant operates in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, and supports 193 grocery stores and 132 pharmacies. As a grocery retailer and pharmacy provider, Giant is uniquely positioned to help families live healthy lives. Our pharmacy and wellness teams continue to assist patients manage medical conditions, prevent disease and improve their well-being. Giant pharmacy offers vaccinations, medication adherence, medication therapy management, health screenings and more. The retailer also has expanded travel health offerings, such as OTC recommendations and travel vaccines and increased the number of consultation rooms in its stores. 

[Read more: Publix Pharmacy wins Retail Specialty Pharmacy Patient Choice Award]

Brittany Orlando, clinical pharmacist for Stop & Shop: Stop & Shop operates over 200 pharmacies across Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey.

In addition to filling prescriptions and assisting customers with over-the-counter medication selection, Stop & Shop's pharmacists offer in-store immunizations, specialized diabetes counseling and medication therapy management services 7 days a weekStop & Shop's pharmacists also work alongside a team of registered dietitians, the Stop & Shop Nutrition Partners, to host in-store health events and educational webinars as another resource for patients seeking guidance with managing conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

Spokesperson for Albertsons: Albertsons has 1,722 in-store pharmacies across 34 states and the District of Columbia. Services vary by location, but we generally offer prescription fills, including for pets, vaccines and care services. Patient-facing services include the launch in February of Sincerely Health, a digital and wellness platform that is designed to help improve lives by connecting, educating, encouraging and rewarding customers on their health and wellness journey so they can make informed choices regarding food, physical activity, sleep and mindfulness. 

Albertsons pharmacies provide 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 their issues and taking care of their health, including appropriate referrals to healthcare providers. 

Albertsons also supports pet parents with money saving prescriptions and healthcare services. Nationwide, our pharmacists can fill pet prescriptions, including veterinary-grade medications. Albertsons offers a Pet Health Savings Card, which is free to our pet parent customers and is a great way to save money on pet medications. 

“We sit at the nexus of food and pharmacy, which positions Kroger Health to improve outcomes through simplified health, wellness and nutrition solutions.”
— Marc Watkins, chief medical officer at Kroger Health
Albertsons offers prescription fills, including for pets, vaccines and care services.
Albertsons offers prescription fills, including for pets, vaccines and care services.

Katie Scanlon, senior director of pharmacy administration at Publix. Publix has 1,256 pharmacies across Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.  Our Publix Pharmacy offers immunizations (by online appointment or walk up); medication therapy management; medication synchronization; we accept healthy benefits via Solutran for customers in participating plans; dually accredited specialty pharmacy licensed in all 50 states with access to many limited distribution drugs; compounding; higi stations at all pharmacies where customers can check metrics like blood pressure and weight; pet medications; pharmacist prescribing where permitted for products (i.e., naloxone, scopolamine patches and naproxen sodium); Medicare plan finder tool for patients ageing into Medicare; bedside delivery to patients being discharged from our partner health systems; biometric screenings (Alabama pharmacies); drug disposal kiosks (select locations) and telehealth kiosks (select locations). 

Angie Nelson, senior vice president, pharmacy at Hy-Vee: Hy-Vee operates more than 285 retail pharmacies across our eight-state region which includes Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin.  We employ more than 1,000 registered pharmacists and 1,400 certified pharmacy technicians. 

We also operate Amber Specialty Pharmacy, a national specialty pharmacy provider that operates 19 pharmacies across the United States with the ability to ship medications to all 50 states, plus Puerto Rico. 

At Hy-Vee, we strive to be a one-stop destination for our patients. We know how important health is to our customers and their families and that’s why we strive to provide convenient and affordable pharmacy services. Patients can pick up a prescription but also speak with a pharmacist about immunization needs and how to determine which Medicare Part D plan is the best for them. To go one step further, we have also added point-of-care services so patients can get evaluated and prescribed treatment for common illnesses, like COVID-19 and flu without having to visit a doctor. 

Hy-Vee pharmacies provide our patients with a variety of services. Our Hy-Vee staff is certified to administer routine immunizations and are happy to provide a free immunization screening to patients upon request. We offer personalized medication counseling to enhance patient understanding of medications and the conditions they treat. 

Our pharmacies provide convenient services such as automatic refills to make our patients’ lives easier. Prescriptions are automatically filled ahead of time and patients receive a call, text or email when their order is ready. We also offer family pharmacy accounts, which makes it easy to manage everyone’s prescriptions, select convenient pickup times and even transfer prescriptions. We’ve also introduced a prescription prepay service to create a faster pickup experience for our customers. We provide prescription delivery and ship-to-home services for the ease of use for our patients. 

Most recently, we’ve started offering low-cost, over-the-counter hearing aids in some of our pharmacies, with no prescription or hearing exam required.

Question 2: How are you addressing social determinants of health? 

Watkins: The kinds of food people have access to often can have a direct impact on their health, but in our current society, food and health are still separated when it comes to medical care. We sit at the nexus of food and pharmacy, which positions Kroger Health to improve outcomes through simplified health, wellness and nutrition solutions. With 90% of the U.S. population living within five miles of a pharmacy, Kroger Health is providing these communities access to healthcare resources. According to the USDA, the primary grocery shopper for a household made 1.6 trips to the grocery store per week in 2022. As the average American only visits their primary care doctor four times per year, this creates a unique opportunity for Kroger and Kroger Health to play a direct role in providing comprehensive healthcare resources in a single location. At Kroger Health, access to health care is no farther away than your neighborhood grocery store.

Shirley: Giant’s pharmacy teams seek community partnerships to offer clinics and health screenings to underserved populations. Over the past two years, the company has partnered with state and federal governments to administer free COVID-19 vaccinations. It also extended its reach beyond its pharmacy walls to provide necessary services in a variety of locations, including schools, churches and even a local zoo to serve underserved populations. Lastly, Giant offers Guiding Stars, a free, accessible tool for customers to make healthier grocery shopping decisions. This easy, accessible program helps customers make healthier choices without needing an extensive knowledge of nutritional labels. All items receive a rating from one to three stars, with three being the best nutritional value. Customers can see the rating on the shelf tag or product packaging. 

Orlando: Stop & Shop Pharmacy recognizes the important role that social determinants of health play in our patients' lives and health outcomes. We are committed to offering convenient, in-store services 7 days a week at all of our pharmacy locations as well as webinar-based education to further accommodate our customers' needs. In making immunization recommendations and providing comprehensive medication reviews to patients, our pharmacists incorporate patient-specific strategies to overcome barriers and meet the needs of the individual patient.

Scanlon: We actively screen patients for immunization needs and serve as a resource for patients who may not have a medical home. We offer medication synchronization in order to help patients stay adherent and streamline trips to the pharmacy. We work to drive down patient out-of-pocket expenses through a variety of ways, including a highly efficient centralized prior authorization management team, a value priced formulary ($7.50 program), Relay Health e-voucher participation and we try to work with as many payers as possible to ensure adequate access for our customers.  

“We actively screen patients for immunization needs and serve as a resource for patients who may not have a medical home.”
— Katie Scanlon, senior director of pharmacy administration at Publix
Hy-Vee focuses on providing convenient and affordable pharmacy services.
Hy-Vee focuses on providing convenient and affordable pharmacy services.

Spokesperson for Albertsons: In support of the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, Albertsons announced that it will contribute new goals and initiatives designed to help break the cycle of hunger and empower nutrition and health through technology and information. Nourishing Neighbors, a program of Albertsons Companies Foundation, seeks to ensure at-risk youth, adults, seniors and families have access to the food they need to lead healthier and more enriching lives. Through Nourishing Neighbors, more than $200 million has been donated to hunger relief organizations since its inception in 2014, and the company has pledged several additional commitments to reduce food insecurity.

Additionally, Albertsons has partnered with WinnCompanies to bring essential services directly to seniors and families living in affordable housing communities. WinnCompanies is a leader in affordable, mixed-income and market-rate housing – to bring essential services directly to more than 133,000 residents across 520 properties nationally. The collaboration provides on-site vaccination opportunities as well as prescriptions and groceries to seniors and families, reducing accessibility barriers. 

In Arizona, Albertsons has a partnership 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, pharmacies assist by dispensing and delivering recovery injectable medications to their inpatient recovery facilities in Phoenix. Albertsons also is reaching out to patients living in more remote areas by making it easy for them to transfer their prescriptions and establish continuity of care. 

Nelson: Our Midwestern footprint of where our stores are located often puts our pharmacists as one of the few healthcare providers in rural communities. Our pharmacists and dietitians embrace their role and serve their communities to provide access to services such as immunizations, biometric screenings, nutritional counseling, over-the-counter medication recommendations and test-to-treat services to assist in improving the health of their communities.

We have 19 mobile health trailers and nine Hy-Vee Healthy You Mobiles allowing our clinical team to reach communities and workplaces across our eight-state region. Our pharmacy team collaborates with our team of registered dietitians to help our patients incorporate healthy eating habits as a part of their overall wellness goals. The dietitian team provides a wide array of services including personalized nutrition counseling. Recently, we have started providing free A1C, biometric, Vitamin D and Omega-3 screenings. Customers can participate in the Healthy Habits Menu Program, which provides a four-week menu where customers can receive a seven-day menu plan with three meals and two snacks per day based on caloric needs. This also includes weekly check-ins with a dietitian to check in on progress and discuss goals. Hy-Vee dietitians host freezer meal workshops. Customers join a dietitian virtually to prepare nutritious meals with a step-by-step guide, recipes and a grocery list of ingredients. Finally, customers can take part in store tours. During a store tour, a dietitian can help customers find the groceries that fit their health needs and range from general nutritious foods, gluten-free to top eight allergen free foods. 

pharmacy teams assist patients manage medical conditions, prevent disease and improve their well-being.
pharmacy teams assist patients manage medical conditions, prevent disease and improve their well-being.

DSN: What new technologies are you offering?

Watkins: Kroger Health has multiple new technologies and services we’ve continued to build over the past few years, including telenutrition, OptUP and Welsana. Telenutrition is available to patients who want to meet and discuss their health and nutrition with one of our registered dietitians. Appointments can vary, but one example is a dietitian helping customers to build nutritious digital shopping carts during an appointment. 

OptUP is Kroger Health’s proprietary nutrition rating system that makes choosing nourishing and healthier foods simple. OptUP was designed as an algorithm that thinks like a dietitian and takes into account the balance of all the different nutrients in an item to populate a single, holistic score on a scale of 1-100.  Through the Kroger app and website, customers can use OptUP as a free service to help them make healthier food choices. OptUP provides insight into personal trends by allowing customers to reflect on the nutritional quality of what they purchase. This helps customers shop healthier on their terms, implementing smaller changes to create consistent patterns. Welsana is a holistic wellness offering curated by the experts at Kroger Health. It’s a personalized digital app where customers can work directly with a dietitian on their health and wellness goals. It's an easy-to-use digital app that has meal logs, activity tracking, exercises, relaxation modules and more.

Scanlon: Publix Pharmacy offers an app for the following: order refills; transfer prescriptions; access records for tax purposes; prepay for prescriptions in order to skip the line; curbside pick-up; online appointment scheduling for vaccines; prepaid pick up and home delivery.

Orlando: Stop & Shop is proud to offer automatic refills, medication synchronization (allowing patients to get all of their prescriptions together on a single day), online immunization scheduling, text message alerts and a convenient mobile app to help manage your family's refills and view immunization history.

Spokesperson for Albertsons: Albertsons introduced Sincerely Health this year with a singular intention to improve lives. This free health and wellness platform was built in collaboration with healthcare providers, insurance companies and technology organizations who share a broader purpose to improve the health and well-being of every community they serve. The platform gives customers a connected and personalized view of their health across food, nutrition, activity and mental well-being, empowering shoppers to make more informed choices. Sincerely Health also offers an online pharmacy experience, including tools for managing prescriptions, scheduling vaccine appointments and connecting users with general practitioners via convenient telehealth services.

Nelson: To help our patients who are visually impaired, we’ve added free talking prescription labels that can read medication information aloud. The labels available upon request, can also be translated into 25 other languages at no cost for our non-English speaking patients. To help our patients save time, we’ve created an online scheduler that allows them to book immunizations for COVID-19 and flu.

To help our customers develop and support healthy lifestyles, we introduced Healthie, our virtual  dietitian platform. This innovative service allows customers to virtually connect with a Hy-Vee registered dietitian for nutrition services online. Virtual services include individual nutrition counseling, meal planning, nutrition store tours and classes. 

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