Community pharmacies are shifting their focus to patient care, expanding services in an effort to improve health outcomes
More and more patients are seeking primary care as the population continues to age and more patients are granted access to health care services through the Affordable Care Act. At the forefront of these changes is community pharmacy, adapting to meet the complex needs of patients in an overburdened health care system.

National pharmacy chains, such as Walgreens, Rite Aid, and CVS Health, are working to shift the focus of pharmacy, with the overall goal of improving the health and wellness of their patients. In that expanded care role, pharmacists are impacting patient care through counseling, medication therapy management (MTM), and various disease state management initiatives.

“Walgreens community pharmacists help people get, stay, and live well by practicing at the peak of their profession,” said Anthony Vega, health care recruiter at Walgreens. “Our pharmacists focus on building relationships with patients by working in an environment that allows the pharmacists to be more accessible to provide counseling and additional health services in the communities we serve.”

Pharmacists at CVS Health play a similar role in helping patients manage their health.

“At CVS Health, our purpose is helping people on their path to better health, and our pharmacists play a critical role in doing so, each and every day,” said Papatya Tankut, RPh, vice president of pharmacy affairs at CVS Health. “Our pharmacists not only dispense medications, they are also trusted resources for patients. They are focused on getting patients their medications when they need them, making sure patients take their medications properly, informing them about possible side effects, and helping them understand their condition. Additionally, our pharmacists play an integral role in providing easily accessible health care services, such as immunizations and vaccinations, when it’s convenient for patients. They are the frontline of health care.”

Likewise, Rite Aid believes that pharmacists are an integral part of the health care team.

“We see our pharmacists as an important member of the health care community who, with doctors and nurses, help to guide a patient toward improved health care outcomes,” said Scott Jacobson, Rite Aid vice president of pharmacy operations. “At Rite Aid, we have a laser-like focus on improving patient outcomes through medication adherence and compliance.”

Meeting Patient Needs
In addition to MTM and other adherence programs, chain pharmacies are expanding the specialized services they offer their patients, leveraging the pharmacists’ position as the most accessible health care provider.

“The future of pharmacy will be more service driven, and Rite Aid is actively developing unique programs and services to ensure that we are able to continue meeting the health and wellness needs of our customers,” Jacobson said.

One such offering is the Rite Aid Health Alliance program, an integrated care model in which pharmacists work with physicians to help patients with chronic conditions manage their health. Members of the care team work with patients to help them establish health goals and create personalized health care action plans.

CVS Health is providing similar services through their Pharmacy Advisor program, which connects chronic disease patients with their pharmacists. The pharmacists use a wide array of tools to help these patients remain adherent to their medications, including telephone and in-store counseling, e-mail reminders, and home consultations.

“We also recently launched Specialty Connect, a specialty prescription services program,” Tankut said. “Thanks to the program, patients now have the option to bring their specialty prescriptions to any CVS pharmacy. After dropping off their prescription at the pharmacy, patients receive insurance guidance and dedicated clinical support by phone from a team of specialty pharmacy experts, trained in each therapeutic area, who are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”

Walgreens is also offering patients more opportunities to interact with pharmacists.

“As Walgreens advances the role of community pharmacy, we have introduced the Well Experience store format, a physical change to the traditional pharmacy layout, making the pharmacist more accessible to provide more counseling to patients and answer questions,” Vegas said. “Our pharmacists are also trained to offer clinical services such as immunizations, MTM, and health screenings.”

Investing in Patient Care
To effectively provide these new services, national drugstore chains are providing their pharmacists with top technology and resources. Like the many expanded services these pharmacies are now providing to patients, these improvements are centered on improving patient health.

“Since CVS Health is focused on innovation, our pharmacists have a wide array of tools, technology, and programs at their disposal, which ultimately allow them to provide their patients with the best care possible,” Tankut said.

The dispensing system at Rite Aid integrates patient compliance into the workflow process, allowing pharmacists to have targeted consultations about adherence, Jacobson said. Pharmacists receive advanced motivational training to ensure the success of these conversations.

“At Rite Aid, the practice of community pharmacy is the core of our business,” he said. “Therefore, we dedicate our available resources toward the advancement of community pharmacy.”

Expanding Opportunities
As the role of the community pharmacist continues to change, the directions a career in pharmacy can take also are changing. For pharmacy students, a number of options can lead to a successful and fulfilling career in retail chain pharmacy.

At pharmacy chains, pharmacists can choose to practice or advance their careers in a variety of settings, including community, infusion, and specialty pharmacy practice.

“Another option is Walgreens Infusion and Respiratory Services (WIRS),” Vega said. “WIRS pharmacists provide respiratory therapies to treat conditions such as pulmonary disease, emphysema and chronic bronchitis, asthma, etc. They also work with infusion services to treat illnesses such as cancer, Crohn’s disease, serious infection, or digestive problems.

“There also are other opportunities for advancement, including registered store manager/pharmacy manager role where you manage the pharmacy and store front-end,” he added.

CVS’s Tankut said that many paths are available to CVS pharmacists as well. “Whether in retail pharmacy, mail-service pharmacy, specialty pharmacy, or management positions, our colleagues are exposed to the many aspects of pharmacy care,” she said.

Corporate opportunities also exist for CVS pharmacists, and more than 50 positions are currently held by pharmacists at the company’s headquarters, Tankut noted.

Jacobson said that opportunities at Rite Aid can include positions in government affairs, managed care, legal, technology, field operations, college relations, and recruitment.

“Being a pharmacist for Rite Aid can lead to any number of job paths depending on an individual’s interests, talents, and career aspirations,” he said. “At Rite Aid, pharmacy drives our business. Therefore, we have a lot of roles for pharmacists within our company.”

Finding a Patient-Centered Career
A career at a national chain pharmacy may be ideal for student pharmacists looking to impact the nation’s health through direct patient contact.

“At the center of Rite Aid’s culture is people,” said Jacobson. “It’s seen within our company tagline, ‘With Us, It’s Personal,’ and is carried forward to the way we provide service to our customers and patients.”

“Working at CVS Health allows new pharmacists to put the many skills they learned in pharmacy school into practice,” said Tankut. “CVS Health understands the pharmacy business and is on the cutting edge of the industry, making it the ideal place to begin a pharmacy career.”

Pharmacy students can start toward a future career in community pharmacy by connecting with pharmacies they are interested in working for and by keeping up with current industry news and trends.

“Students and recent graduates have opportunities throughout the country to start a career in pharmacy with Walgreens,” Vega said. “We encourage students to join our talent community to receive the latest company information, news, and upcoming events, and join our Walgreens Healthcare Careers group on LinkedIn.”

Looking to the Future
Improving patient outcomes will continue to take on greater significance for community pharmacists as the national health system evolves. The career opportunities for pharmacists will continue to grow as chains further expand their pharmacy, health, and wellness services.