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Retail pharmacies can play role in employer wellness programs

Take Care, Hy-Vee offer glimpse at some possibilities

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT'S IMPORTANT — It's no secret that something has been afoot for the last few years: Retail pharmacies have gradually metamorphosed from places to pick up pills to destinations for health care — places to get everything from vaccines to care from nurses and even from physicians.

Given retail pharmacies' evolving role, the growing number of employers starting wellness programs has opened up a number of possibilities, which some retail pharmacy companies have already started exploring.

(THE NEWS: More than half of employers include wellness program in health package. For the full story, click here.)

In November 2011, for example, computer networking company Cisco signed a deal with Walgreens' Take Care Health Systems to operate the "LifeConnections Health Center" on Cisco's San Jose, Calif., campus, providing Cisco employees and dependents with health-and-wellness services ranging from primary care, physical therapy, chiropractic care, acupuncture, vision, health coaching and an on-site Walgreens pharmacy.

More recently, in late March, Take Care announced the opening of the BeWell Center to provide wellness and preventive care, symptom care and lab services for Tufts University employees and contractors using the Tufts Health Plan, complementing a fitness center that Take Care also manages.

Meanwhile, in September 2011, Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield named Hy-Vee Pharmacy Solutions, the chain's specialty pharmacy division, as its preferred provider of specialty pharmacy benefits for members. The services include access to pharmacists who can address members' questions or concerns, one-stop shopping for prescriptions and OTC medications and delivery of medications through Hy-Vee pharmacies or to patients' homes, offices or other locations.

Employers have a vested interest in keeping employees healthy: It makes for more productive staff and keeps a lid on what they have to pay for health care. With retail pharmacies increasingly acting as extenders to physicians — and in some cases hiring physicians themselves, as Duane Reade has done — they'll have a growing number of opportunities to be of service.

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