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2021 Pharmacy Innovator of the Year
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12/10/2021

Pharmacy Innovator of the Year 2021: Walmart connects with communities

Health-and-wellness initiatives help the retailer play a role in consumer health.

Walmart wants to do more than offer consumers budget-friendly groceries and discount items. The company also strives to be an integrated, omnichannel healthcare organization, and is working to improve the health of its communities. The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer responded to the COVID-19 crisis not only by offering testing and vaccinations, but by developing new ways to offer these important services, and by implementing new wellness programs.

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2021 Pharmacy Innovator of the Year: Walmart

With more than 5,100 pharmacy locations nationwide, Walmart can engage with millions of consumers. From setting up COVID-19 testing sites in underserved communities and making vaccines widely available nationwide to offering digital scheduling for these appointments, the company mobilized to keep people healthy. Community care extended beyond the coronavirus, as the chain added more diabetes care and virtual care to its offerings and hosted many wellness events. For all these reasons Drug Store News named Walmart the 2021 Pharmacy Innovator of the Year. 

The company’s vision is to be able to deliver the right level of care — at the right time, in the right setting — for everyone. One major focus has been to bring health and wellness to underserved communities, and Walmart is well suited to meet the inherent logistics and other challenges.

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“We have more than 4,000 locations in HRSA-designated medically underserved areas, giving us the opportunity to provide health-and-wellness services and vaccine access to areas that need it most, with our pharmacies and health services that are already there,” said Amy Hill, senior director for public affairs at Walmart. The company brought COVID-19 vaccines to these communities with more than 600 events in 2021.

When the pandemic unfolded in 2020, Walmart partnered with local nonprofits and community leaders to offer testing in medically underserved neighborhoods. The company set up free testing sites with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “From the beginning, when we were asked by HHS to step up and support community testing, our goal has been to help provide increased access to testing in our communities and play a part in helping combat the pandemic,” said Jason LaFave, Walmart’s senior director of operations implementation.

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Walmart stats

To choose the sites, the company reviewed factors including areas of highest need, positive COVID case rates, CDC’s CVAC (vaccine coverage index) areas of concern, immunization rates and the social vulnerability index (SVI). As of August, Walmart supported more than 500 testing sites across the country and tested hundreds of thousands of people.

Vaccinate in Store and out
When the COVID-19 vaccines became available this year, Walmart developed a “Get Out the Vaccine” plan modeled after “Get Out the Vote” election campaigns. The effort included strategies for grassroots and community partnerships, corporate partners, internal operations, media and surrogates, and had a lofty objective.

“The overarching goal of the campaign is to support the goals of getting the majority of the eligible U.S. population vaccinated,” said Dr. Cheryl Pegus, Walmart’s executive vice president of health and wellness.

[Related: Walmart’s CFO to depart]

“We’ve administered millions of vaccines, and 80% have been delivered in underserved and rural communities — often to those with higher vaccine reluctance.” 

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2021 Pharmacy Innovator of the Year: Walmart

As it did with testing, Walmart partnered with community groups and nonprofits to bring vaccines to people who had limited access to these resources. For example in Jackson, Miss., Walmart teamed up with the Jackson Housing Authority to set up a community center for a low-income senior housing unit. The team administered nearly 2,000 vaccinations to vulnerable seniors. Walmart maintains partnerships with long-term healthcare facilities, and still conducts community vaccination events and Walmart Wellness Days, where it offers free health screenings, COVID-19 and flu vaccinations, and other services.

Employees also need care. Walmart associates can get vaccinated while on the clock or receive up to two hours of paid time off to do so. If they suffer any adverse reactions, they can receive up to three days of paid leave. Walmart also offered a one-time incentive of $150 to associates who work in stores to get fully vaccinated.

The retailer also educates its associates about the vaccine, using up-to-date information from reputable sources. Some associates are vaccine ambassadors, who have volunteered to share their story on why they got vaccinated. “Our associates want to hear from others like them,” said Lisa Smith, Walmart’s senior director of clinical strategy and operations support.

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2021 Pharmacy Innovator of the Year: Walmart

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Education is an important piece, and the company makes sure staff and shoppers get the latest COVID-19 information. For example, when the booster shots became available, customers asked about mixing and matching booster shots. “We’ve armed our pharmacy teams with the CDC guidance to explain,” Smith said. The stores also have posters and overhead announcements, and there is information on the company website.

To administer the shots, Walmart has more than 13,500 nationally certified immunizing pharmacy technicians in pharmacies, in addition to trained pharmacists. “All associates who are immunizing have also been trained in vaccine hesitancy and in how to give vaccinations to children,” Smith said. 

Data, Technology and Digital Offerings
Customers can schedule a vaccine appointment through Walmart’s Digital COVID-19 Scheduler, available on its website and through a QR code in stores. “Providing a digital solution for more customers to sign up and get an appointment for their COVID-19 shot aligns with our mission to make it simple for our customers to live healthier,” said Trent Gruenwald, Walmart’s director of planning and strategy for health and wellness. The company has scheduled millions of vaccine doses through the tool. 

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Walmart digital vaccine record (DVR)
Walmart's free digital vaccine record (DVR)

[Related: Walmart raises full year earnings amid positive Q3 results]

The technology also enables the pharmacy to be more efficient. The tool collects the consumer’s information prior to a visit, freeing the pharmacist to focus less on administrative tasks and more on meeting patients’ needs. Other labor-saving tools include videos to train pharmacists and online modules to streamline the training process. “This has allowed our pharmacy teams to work through the training in short durations to help with retention and to allow them to revisit when necessary,” Gruenwald said.

Walmart also launched a free digital vaccine record (DVR). It includes the individual’s name, date of birth, date of vaccination, vaccine manufacturer, vaccine lot number and location where the person received the immunization, and is securely stored in the customer’s pharmacy account on Walmart.com or Samsclub.com. That saves wear and tear on the paper copy of the vaccine card, but more importantly, empowers people with increased access to their health data through a free, secure digital wallet. The DVR has been accessed more than one million times since its June launch.

Other tech includes the Walmart Wellness App, which enables customers to track and manage their medications and other healthcare needs. In another exploding trend, virtual medicine, Walmart acquired the multispecialty telehealth provider MeMD. The acquisition enables Walmart Health to provide access to virtual care across the nation, including urgent, behavioral and primary care, complementing the in-person Walmart Health centers. MeMD offers women’s health, men’s health, acute care, behavioral health for adults and teens, and psychiatry. 

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2021 Pharmacy Innovator of the Year: Walmart

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“Today people expect omnichannel access to care, including accessing the type of care they want in the way they want to experience it,” said Bill Goodwin, senior director of Walmart health operations. “Adding telehealth to our Walmart Health care strategies allows us to provide in-person and digital care across our multiple assets and solutions.” The offering helps Walmart reach a broad base, such as busy parents looking for a quick virtual care visit, seniors lacking transportation to a doctor and employers looking for solutions for employees. 

Other Wellness
Other health issues are important too, so Walmart offers quarterly Wellness Days when customers can get vaccines and check their cholesterol, A1C and blood pressure. As part of its July Walmart Wellness Day, the company contracted with an organization to bring their HIV mobile testing units to store parking lots in the greater Atlanta area stores so customers could also get HIV tested if they wanted. In October, Walmart hosted a series of events at local stores to encourage customers to get their flu shots during a regular shopping trip.

Diabetes is still a major health issue, and more than 14% of Walmart shoppers are managing diabetes. According to the CDC National Diabetes Statistics Report, 34.2 million Americans — just over 1 in 10 — have diabetes. To help with insulin affordability, in June Walmart announced the launch of ReliOn private brand analog insulin that offers customers significant price savings. Walmart, which launched $4 generic prescriptions in 2006, has a long track record of improving the affordability of medications. “The natural step was to extend our private brand offering to an area of insulin that had the largest growth in out-of-pocket costs,” said W. Michael Burke, Walmart’s director of brand pharmacy merchandising.

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Pharmacist administering vaccine

The new private-label product is ReliOn NovoLog Insulin (insulin aspart) injection, manufactured by Novo Nordisk. In August, Walmart launched another option in the portfolio, ReliOn Novolog 70/30 Mix. Also in the drug-cost realm, Walmart launched Walmart+ Rx for less, a prescription savings program for Walmart+ members, in June. 

[Related: Walmart’s health division makes key leadership appointments]

As the pandemic, and other health issues, continue, Walmart shows no sign of slowing down its wellness initiatives. The next Walmart Wellness Day is scheduled for Jan. 28. Testing sites continue to be available, and the stores and the website sell at-home COVID-19 antigen screening self tests and self-administered PCR mail-in tests. As boosters and immunizations for children expand, Walmart said it expects to see increased usage of the Digital COVID-19 Scheduler and of the DVR. The company continues to deliver booster shots at community events, long-term care facilities and school-based clinics.

“We have already shown we can make a real difference in our communities through our nonprofit, community-based, and state and local government partnerships to improve access to the vaccine,” Dr. Pegus said. “We continue to see increases across our stores, which tells us our efforts are working.

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