Supermarkets: Linking Patients, Pharmacists, and Nutrition

Barbara Sax and Aimee Simone, Assistant Editor
Published Online: Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Supermarket pharmacies match patient service offerings of chain drug stores and can offer pharmacists a fulfilling, patient-centered career.
Supermarket chains are extending their reach in pharmacy, and pharmacists practicing in those settings are contributing to their patients’ overall health care in new and meaningful ways.

Nearly 70% of supermarket retailers contain a pharmacy, and the list of patient services those in-store pharmacies provide is getting longer. Supermarket pharmacies match patient service offerings of chain drug stores. At their local supermarket, patients can tap into in-store immunizations, nutritional programs, and disease management services.

More Than Vaccinations

The Kroger Co is one chain offering a portfolio of vaccinations to its patients. “In addition to flu vaccines, many of our locations can also give a variety of other vaccines, such as hepatitis, tetanus, meningitis, and the shingles vaccine, just to name a few,” said Bengy Mitchell, PharmD, pharmacy coordinator at The Kroger Co.

While vaccinations are a cornerstone service provided at supermarket pharmacies, patient services extend far beyond vaccines. “Our pharmacists work in a clinical patient-centered environment where their focus is not only on filling quality prescriptions, but also providing premier services through associates that care about their health care,” said Maria Brous, a spokesperson for Publix.

Brous said the chain provides cholesterol testing as well as bone density and diabetes screenings in select markets. The chain also provides diabetes education to patients and offers its pharmacists the opportunity to build a diabetes practice.

“The majority of our members offer seasonal vaccines and we’re seeing a growing number of supermarket pharmacies now offering additional vaccines to protect against pneumonia, chicken pox, and several other ailments,” said Cathy Polley, RPh, vice president of health and wellness of the Food Marketing Institute and executive director of the FMI Foundation. “Supermarket pharmacies also offer medication therapy management programs to ensure that patients understand the importance of their prescribed medications.”

Helping Patients Live Healthier

Helping patients lead healthy lives is also part of the directive for Kroger pharmacists. Two of the company’s divisions (Kroger Cincinnati and the Dillon Stores) became involved in The American Pharmacist Association Foundation Project IMPACT: Diabetes, which integrates pharmacists into the health care team to address some of the challenges that people living with diabetes face. Pharmacists provide information, coach patients on how to be more active in their health care, and show patients how to be more effective in their self-management of the disease.

Kroger pharmacists also work with employers to help companies reduce their overall health care costs. “Our programs are designed to help employees take a more active role in their health care, and our results are outcome driven,” said Mitchell. “We offer biometric screenings to help patients ‘know their numbers’ and also offer lifestyle management programs, such as smoking cessation and fitness, nutrition, and weight management programs.”

Specially trained Kroger pharmacists engage patients, face-to-face, with direct health coaching on diabetes and heart health management programs. Pharmacists also offer employers on-site seminars to help educate their employees on general health, nutrition, and fitness topics.

Supermarket pharmacies are also equipped with the latest technology, allowing their pharmacists to spend more time educating and coaching patients. “With cutting-edge technology and a focus on clinical programs, SuperValu Pharmacies allows pharmacists to utilize their clinical knowledge to best care for, and build lasting relationships with their patients,” said Megan Martin, PharmD, clinical banner leader at SuperValu.

Nutrition: Key Component of Health Care

While patient programs offered at supermarket pharmacies closely mirror those offered in chain drug stores, supermarkets offer one component that is unique—a nutritional aspect to disease management.

“The supermarket provides the unique asset of food, pharmacy, and knowledgeable nutrition experts in one location to help America’s grocery shoppers better manage disease, lower stress, improve nutrition, and enhance their quality of life through health eating,” said FMI’s Polley. “Pharmacies and dieticians are combining efforts to offer total store solutions for customers with chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.”

Supermarkets are perfectly positioned to provide those services, and many are taking the lead in developing programs that help patients make healthy nutritional choices. Those can include everything from understanding nutritional labels to making heart-healthy decisions when grocery shopping. The marriage of pharmacy and nutrition can have a significant impact on patients’ health.

At SuperValu, clinical specialist pharmacists team up with a registered dietician to provide educational guided tours throughout the store, for example, focusing on teaching diabetes patients how to shop for healthy choices. That additional education can mean better outcomes for patients.

Publix pharmacists can also be found out in the aisles showing patients how to read food labels. “Our pharmacists have access to tools such as our nutrition shelf tags and specialized shopping guides, such as gluten-free guides, which can help customers make appropriate food choices,” said Brous.

A Perfect Setting for Patient Counseling

Kroger pharmacists are also trained to counsel patients on lifestyle changes. “In many practice settings, these topics may not present themselves,” said Kroger’s Mitchell. “The supermarket provides the perfect setting for these discussions with patients. A patient filling a cholesterol medication may have questions about diet recommendations given by their physician—limiting saturated fats, adding plant sterols—and our pharmacists can go into the aisles with patients to show them examples of foods that would meet these criteria.”

Supermarket pharmacists are trained to maximize their opportunities to interact with patients. “Because our pharmacy customers are also our shoppers, they visit our stores an average of 2 to 3 time a week, allowing for a personal relationship with pharmacists,” said Publix’s Brous.

SuperValu pharmacies are also centered on patient care. “Our leadership team consists entirely of pharmacists who are dedicated to building the future of the company around total patient health care, as well as a high quality work environment for their pharmacists,” said Martin.

Kroger’s Mitchell said that supermarket chains have an “incredible opportunity to listen, educate, and support our customers and communities as they explore ways to improve their health.”

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