Expert advice: pharmacist, in-store dietitian team can make a big impression with shoppers

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Expert advice: pharmacist, in-store dietitian team can make a big impression with shoppers

By Michael Johnsen - 05/15/2018
The one-two juggernaut of the pharmacist and an in-store dietitian could make a big impact on consumers as they consider where to do the bulk of their grocery, health and pharmaceutical shopping in years to come.

While the combination of Amazon and Whole Foods is creating a number of impressive images, many retail industry officials have said that an in-store dietitian, working closely with the pharmacist, can help traditional retailers gain an edge with shoppers.

These operators are crafting a potent one-two punch combo that couples traditional chronic disease care and the kind of dietary lifestyle changes primary care practitioners have been advocating for ages. First, it dovetails nicely with a burgeoning health industry trend that rewards value-based care over fee-for-service agreements. Second, it’s a loyalty-inducing trip driver that could pull grocery shoppers back into the stores and off of their Fire Tablets and iPads.

Consumers are hungry for that health-infused nutrition information. “As many as 61% of our customers told us last year when we did a survey that ‘I need help with nutrition,’” said Colleen Lindholz, Kroger’s president of pharmacy and The Little Clinic. “They want us to simplify it for them.”

Managing health toward better outcomes through food is the long game. “It can’t just be pharmacists. It can’t just be physicians. It really is the holistic approach. Food is medicine and food is at the core,” Lindholz said. “It’s a team approach to better health.”

Pairing the dietitian with a community pharmacist offers retailers an opportunity to double down on improving healthcare outcomes, said Lisa Coleman, lead nutritionist at Giant Food. “Increased involvement of community pharmacists and nutritionists in patient care offers increased access for improved health care for patients,” she said. “We recognize that [by] offering co-taught classes on diabetes care and heart health, our pharmacists and nutritionist are able to be a part of the patient’s healthcare team, providing education and tips to manage chronic disease states.”

“Pharmacies located in grocery stores provide the perfect backdrop for creating synergy between food and medicine,” said Chris Irmscher, group director of pharmacy human resources at Albertsons, noting the number of disease states with which a dietitian can help. “A team of dietitians and pharmacists brings the phrase ‘food as medicine’ to life by providing the added health benefit of nutritional advice for our pharmacy patients. We are utilizing this dietitian and pharmacist tandem approach with our year-round diabetes tour program, our healthy aging classes and our DPP program, and we are just getting started.”

Alleviating confusion is the ultimate goal, some said, and it is important that the retailer get the pharmacist and all of its buyers involved in the process. Lewis Goldstein, vice president of marketing at LeForge, Wis.-based Organic Valley, said that shoppers are clearly unsure about what they are buying sometimes, and a dietitian can make a big difference.

“Working with buyers at their chains, dietitians can help develop simple languages for the consumer that will help with any confusion in the aisle and on the packaging,” he said. “With organic products, for example, there are so many claims being made that it is necessary to have an educated teacher in-store to explain what is real and what is not.”

As the online retail industry is continually working to drive efficiencies into that last mile, the pharmacist/dietitian team is helping consumers navigate the journey toward better health through nutrition and adherence. “We talk so much about the last mile when it comes to e-commerce and the delivery of products,” said Paul Gerner, vice president of drug store H-E-B. “When you look at the cost of health care and a healthcare system that tends to be very reactive, [crossing] that last mile with dieticians is the proverbial last mile in health care. The last mile in health care exists in the food patients are putting into their bodies. And there is currently no one to help them navigate that last mile. Nutritionists and dietitians can help in that last, and most critical, part of a patient’s journey.”

To effectively make that trek, however, retailers need to invest in a good pair of hiking boots. “For it to be sustainable, it needs to have a neutral or positive ROI,” Gerner said. “It really requires partnership across the medical industry, suppliers and retailers.”

For example, in today’s world of micro-marketing and social media, suppliers can play a key role educating consumers around how that whole proposition — pharmacist-assisted medication management, dietitian-directed better nutrition and that supplier’s healthier-for-you food item — how that proposition can help drive better health outcomes, Gerner said.