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Mass Merchants Offer Convenience and Economic Options for Patients

Barbara Sax
Published Online: Friday, March 12, 2010   [ Request Print ]

Ms. Sax is a freelance writer based in Chevy Chase, Maryland.




Corner drugstores do not have a lock on pharmacy anymore. Increasingly, patients are filling their prescriptions at the location that offers the most convenience and the best prices. For many patients, that means a mass merchant.  
 
In fact, mass merchants fill nearly 10% of the nation’s prescriptions, according to the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. These chains are offering patient services that rival the amenities offered at drug chains and independent pharmacies.
 
Pharmacy may not be the first department that comes to mind when you think of the wholesale retailer Costco, but the chain is serious about pharmacy and has designed the department’s workflow to allow pharmacists to spend as much time counseling patients as possible. Patient counseling rooms allow pharmacists to consult with patients, and Costco pharmacists are trained to provide medication therapy management (MTM), immunizations, and health clinic services.
 
“We are expanding our clinical services and providing patients more personal relationships with our pharmacists, which not only improves patient outcomes, but also creates professional satisfaction for our pharmacists,” said Bradley Hanna, PharmD, NW regional pharmacy supervisor at Costco Wholesale.
 
“Disease state management programs at Costco allow our pharmacists to have one-on-one interactions with patients, which improve continuity of care,” said Hanna. “Our pharmacies have patient counseling rooms that provide our pharmacists an appropriate environment to engage patients in the management of their health care. We are continually adding new programs, clinics, and disease state management programs to better serve our patients in the communities in which we practice.”
 
Costco is expanding its pharmacist-based immunization program nationwide to allow adult patients better access to important vaccines. The chain also operates a variety of pharmacist- based screenings, including cholesterol, osteoporosis, allergy, and hypertension.
 
Kmart is also very focused on providing patient services in its pharmacy departments. “At Kmart Pharmacy, our pharmacists are encouraged to practice pharmacy the way they were trained to practice—providing counseling not only when and where it is required, but to every patient who wants or needs counseling,” said Howard Kramer, RPh, director of pharmacy human resources and government affairs at Kmart.
 
Kmart’s MTM programs focus on medication adherence, with particular attention paid to diabetic and cardiovascular issues. “Our stores frequently hold diabetic and healthy heart events, with free blood pressure monitoring,” said Kramer.
 
Pharmacists find that working for national companies with vast resources provide them with opportunities they might not have in another practice environment. “With the resources available to a company as large as Costco, there are many diverse options for upward advancement at the company,” said Hanna. “As our company continues to grow, there are ever-expanding and varied opportunities for pharmacists. We offer entrepreneurial pharmacists the venue to learn the administrative aspects of pharmacy, including budgeting and OTC product merchandising.”
 
Kmart encourages its pharmacists to take personal ownership of the pharmacy operation. “We have policies and procedures that must be followed, of course, but we want Kmart pharmacists to operate the pharmacy as if they owned it,” said Kramer.
 
That philosophy is evident in the company’s Pharmacy Advisory Boards. “We recruit the best of our pharmacists from across the country and place them in 1 of 3 advisory board teams, each team focusing on the PDX pharmacy system/ technology, professional development, or new business development,” said Kramer. “These pharmacists help management make the critical decisions in many areas of the pharmacy operation and help guide our future direction.”
 
At Kmart, the pharmacy division is run completely by pharmacists. The focus is the same at Costco. “The pharmacy department corporate management team consists of pharmacists, which is not always the case at other companies,” said Hanna.
 
Hanna said varied operational positions, including regional pharmacy supervisors, divisional managers, and vice presidents, exist at the company. “There are also opportunities in the areas of specialty pharmacy, mail order and central fill, clinical programs, merchandising, third party, information systems technology and training, and pharmacy benefits management,” he said.

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