Ms. Sax is a freelance writer based in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
The prescription business in the United States isdominated by national drugstore chains—more than 40% of retail pharmacy sales are generated by chain drugstores. At drug chains such as CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens, however, the business of pharmacy encompasses much more than filling prescriptions.
National drugstore chains continue to be very patient-focused and they continue to find new ways to make pharmacists a central part of improved patient care.
These chains have brought tremendous innovation to the practice of pharmacy—from pioneering new technology that allows pharmacists to spend more time with patients and less time on counting and pouring, to creating medication management programs for a variety of disease states.
CVS, with its MinuteClinics, was a pioneer in bringing health clinics into the store to create a one-stop health care center for patients who need nonemergency clinic care. Walgreens recently unveiled a pilot program for patients with type 2 diabetes that enables patients to meet with staff pharmacists and nurse practitioners several times a year in an effort to supplement and enhance the care they receive from their physicians.
Technology Allows for More Patient Interaction at CVS
Pharmacists who choose to practice at a large drug chain find they benefit from the support structure a large company can provide. “At CVS, pharmacists have access to the latest in pharmacy technology and processes, so they have the ability to spend more time on the professional aspects of their job, such as quality assurance and patient counseling,” said Papatya Tankut, RPh, vice president of pharmacy professional services at CVS.
Technology, such as bar code scanning and pill imaging, reduces errors and leads to more efficient pharmacy management. That means pharmacists are free to spend more time with patients. “CVS provides its pharmacists with many tools and resources to help them manage their patients’ prescriptions, through both technology and corporate-wide programs,” explained Tankut.
The chain’s commitment to carving out more time for pharmacist–patient interaction is evident in a recent effort to reduce phone calls into its pharmacies. In December, CVS created the Customer Care Center to service phone calls from pharmacy customers, prescribers, and other third-party agencies. Because pharmacists spend less time responding to calls, they can spend more time making a difference by counseling patients.
Drug chains are increasingly finding new ways for their pharmacists to offer additional patient services and provide their customers with the most comprehensive care. Pharmacists who want to be on the cutting edge of patient care are finding that drug chains provide the perfect practice setting for their careers.
Education an Important Role at Walgreens
“Pharmacy makes up 65% of our business, and a pharmacy-focused culture helps provide a great working environment for our pharmacists, because it allows them to provide the best care and services to their patients,” said Amanda Bidlencik, RPh, Walgreens manager of pharmacy relations.
Bidlencik said that Walgreens’ pharmacists strive to help with medication adherence and the improvement of patient health, as well as focus on preventive health. “Our flu shot campaign is a great example of how we can work to educate and help make a difference. With more than 17,000 certified immunizers, we administered more than 5.4 million shots,” she said.
Improving Patient Outcomes at Rite Aid
Camp Hill, Pennsylvania–based Rite Aid also trains its pharmacists to provide a variety of immunizations, from influenza (both seasonal and H1N1) to shingles and hepatitis. Like its competitors, Rite Aid is focused on disease state management—a position that provides myriad opportunities for pharmacists to make a difference in patients’ lives.
“The vast majority of pharmacists want to take the profession to the next level,” said Rick Mohall, PharmD, Rite Aid’s director of field clinical service. “They see pharmacists as an underutilized resource for patients, and they see the opportunity to be more involved in the health care system and have a greater impact on patient health and well-being. As a store pharmacist, you see those counseling opportunities every day.”
Mohall noted that Rite Aid pharmacists are encouraged to spend time with patients to help them achieve the best possible outcomes from medication therapy. “Our pharmacists can sit down with a patient to review and evaluate their medications and give them a personal medication record. Even more importantly, the pharmacist can help set therapeutic goals and determine whether they are actually being met and then work on a medication action plan. A pharmacist, more than any other health care professional, is uniquely qualified to do that,” he said.
Rite Aid operates 12 sites approved by the American Diabetes Association (ADA)—more than any other chain. “Being ADA-approved means that we can bill Medicare for medication management services, so pharmacists can be reimbursed for their expertise,” said Mohall. “We have a very robust diabetes self-management program that includes lifestyle changes, proper use of medication, goals of therapy, treating chronic complications, and we are looking to expand it.”
Pharmacists at the chain are also encouraged to explore specialties within the profession that interest them so that they can become the “resident experts” in specific areas.
“When students first begin working, they might have a niche that they have identified—a particular class of medications that they have enjoyed, whether it is pediatrics, geriatrics, or cardiac—and they can translate that into working with those patients directly in the community,” said Michele Belsey, Rite Aid’s vice president of college/professional recruitment.
“If your forte in pharmacy school was cholesterol medications and determining the best medication for a particular patient, you can develop that niche on the job. Or you can develop your practice by reaching out to local physicians, emergency rooms, or by becoming an OTC expert,” Belsey said.
Future Full of Oportunities
Because national drug chains are expanding the reach of their businesses, pharmacists have many paths to take when advancing their careers.
Last year, Walgreens created 2 new positions in their field that focus entirely on training employees and developing talent—a move that Bidlencik said shows the company’s commitment to enhancing pharmacy careers. “Walgreens has expanded the type of pharmacists that work within different business units,” said Bidlencik. “With acquisitions and new business development in the home care, specialty, and long-term care areas, our roles and career paths for pharmacists are as diverse as ever.”
Rite Aid’s Mohall said the future of chain drug pharmacy is wide open and full of opportunities that the industry is still creating. “You may see in the future unique career paths for pharmacists that may not even exist yet as the pharmacy role changes,” he said.
As the national drug chains bring innovation to the field of pharmacy, pharmacists will find these companies continue to offer a dynamic environment for career growth. â—