Supermarkets Offer Patients Accessible Pharmacy Services

Pharmacy Careers
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Pharmacists who work in supermarket pharmacies interact with patients and gain valuable clinical experience.

Supermarkets are taking a leadership role in helping consumers create and maintain healthy lifestyles, and full-service pharmacies are a big part of that strategy. Pharmacy is good business for the supermarket industry, and grocery chains are making sure pharmacists are in a position to serve patients with cutting edge pharmacy technology and a portfolio of pharmacy services.

Medication therapy management (MTM) services, immunizations, and health screenings are common in today’s supermarket pharmacy settings.

“The pharmacy represents not only one of the most stable, but also one of the most profitable departments in the supermarket,” said Catherine Polley, vice president of health and wellness at the Food Marketing Institute.

“Today’s shoppers live more hectic lives, and the ability to fill their prescriptions where they buy their food is a great convenience,” she said. Convenience—combined with an increasing array of services—has led to a growth in prescription sales for the supermarket channel.

Last year, prescription sales in supermarkets were up 4%, according to the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS). NACDS data also indicate that supermarkets filled 10% of all retail prescriptions in 2009.

Supermarket chains are focused on increasing that percentage, and they are in a unique position to do so. Because the average grocery store shopper visits the supermarket once or twice a week versus once a month for a drugstore, the supermarket pharmacist has an opportunity to interact with patients much more often than in other community pharmacy settings.

“Our pharmacists provide in-depth patient counseling, on-site immunization and travel medicine services, medication therapy management, and a variety of specialty services,” said Debbie Eaton, regional manager of talent acquisition at Safeway, which operates more than 1770 stores across the United States and Canada.

Immunization, MTM Focus at Safeway

Safeway offers comprehensive immunization services for adolescents and adults. Safeway pharmacists receive standardized training through the Pharmacy Bases Immunization Certification program from the American Pharmacists Association.

“One hundred percent of all full-time pharmacists at Safeway are certified to provide immunizations year-round, and Safeway has administered over 5 million doses of vaccine since the program’s inception in 2000,” said Eaton.

The company has expanded its immunization program to offer vaccinations and prescription needs for patients traveling outside the United States. “At the appointment, pharmacists administer all vaccines, fill all prescription needs, and counsel the patient on preventive measures to help keep the patient healthy while out of the country,” said Eaton.

The chain also provides MTM with a number of different managed care providers and offers point of care cholesterol, bone density, and body mass index screenings. “MTM is the ground floor to change the current business model of pharmacy practice from product-dependent to cognitive services,” said Eaton.

Safeway pharmacists also provide care coordination, benefits investigation and compliance, and adherence tracking and coaching to patients on specific specialty medications. Patients new to specialty therapies are supported with counseling that ensures they understand how the medication works, trains them to administer the medication, and alerts them to potential side effects and how they are triggered.

These services could not be possible without a work flow model that ensures pharmacists have enough time to spend counseling their patients. “Our work flow model allows maximum patient contact and ability to follow up with patients,” said Eaton. “Regardless of location volume, we are sure to have the level of pharmacist and technician support necessary to have a balanced work flow that allows our staff to provide superior customer and patient service.”

Eaton said that Safeway pharmacists like the fact that less than 2% of all Safeway pharmacists have drive-through windows, so patients are assured contact with a pharmacist when they are filling or refilling their prescriptions.

Publix Super Markets Provides Clinical Services

Publix Super Markets, which operates more than 1000 stores throughout the southern United States, offers several clinical pharmacy services including cholesterol screenings, immunization services, and MTM. The company’s Diabetes Management System is a multifaceted program that offers patients free medication, online resources, and pharmacist services. “As part of our Diabetes Management System, our pharmacists interact with and counsel patients daily, ” said Publix spokesperson Maria Brous.

Pharmacists in the Lakeland, Florida-based chain work with several MTM companies to provide MTM services to patients through targeted interventions and comprehensive medication reviews. Publix pharmacists also have opportunities to provide consulting services through community outreach programs.

“Publix Pharmacy compliments all the offerings of a traditional grocery store and allows us to build loyal and lasting relationships with our customers,” said Brous. Web refill services and the company’s AutoRefill program help pharmacists manage their workload and inventory so they can spend more time with patients.

Schnucks Ofers Special Services

At St. Louis-based Schnuck Markets, several of the chain’s 102 in-store pharmacies offer special services to patients living with chronic disease conditions requiring expensive and hard to source medications.

“These pharmacies are designed to offer additional services to patients living with conditions such as HIV, auto-immune disorders, cancer, and multiple sclerosis, as well as patients recovering from organ transplants and other conditions that require special medication therapy,” explained Bob Mueller, Schnucks’ director of pharmacy. “Often, the medications that treat these diseases are expensive, require special storage conditions, and need prior approval from insurance providers. Schnucks understands this and offers several services to assist these patients. The pharmacies work hard to coordinate benefits and care between the patient, physician, and provider.”

That focus on individualized attention is a guiding principal at Schnucks. “Our pharmacists have a slogan: ‘Every patient, every time.’ They realize that when they are assisting a patient, that person must have their complete and undivided attention,” said Mueller. “There is no shortage of pharmacies in the areas we serve, but it is our pharmacy staffs—pharmacists and technicians— that keep the people coming back to Schnucks for their pharmacy needs. That personal one-on-one service is the key to our long-term success.”

Patient Interaction is Priority

Supermarket pharmacy departments have become an even more important resource to the growing percentage of consumers who are making healthier diets a key part of an overall health strategy aimed at treating and preventing chronic diseases.

“Pharmacists can help shoppers sort through health and nutrition information so they can make informed food choices that complement their prescribed medications,” said Polley. That means pharmacists practicing in a supermarket setting know more about what their patients are eating, so they have an opportunity to help them make choices that can ultimately improve their overall health status.

“Most diseases can be influenced by diet and nutrition, and at Schnucks, we can provide access to experts on both,” said Mueller. “By having both in one convenient location, we are able to ensure that more of our customers are enjoying a higher quality of life.”

Polley said supermarket pharmacists are positioned to help patients blend their food, nutrition, and medication needs in a way no other channel can. “Everything from store tours to help customers make better food choices to nutrition counseling are available to today’s shopper. There really is no better practice environment for today’s pharmacists who want to help their patients lead a healthier life,” she said.

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

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