Wellness empowerment. Even before Rite Aid’s big announcement last week, officially unveiling its newest program, Rite Aid Health Alliance, those two words more or less reflected every major initiative happening at the company over the last few years: the Wellness stores; wellness+, Rite Aid’s health-based loyalty program; the Wellness Ambassadors in its stores… It’s always been about engaging patients in wellness, and empowering them to take steps to improve their health and well being. Through the program, Rite Aid pharmacists together with a new patient care position in Rite Aid stores, the Care Coach, work directly with patients with chronic conditions and poly-chronic conditions to help them meet specific health improvement goals, as outlined by the patient’s physician. Care coaches, who are specially trained in behavior change to help patients address health issues related to lifestyle, work with patients to take their physicians’ recommendations and “break them down into sizeable, understandable milestones,” Jocelyn Konrad, VP healthcare initiatives for Rite Aid, told DSN. Rite Aid’s Health Alliance stores can “become an extension of the physician’s office,” she said. “It’s going to be a different experience for the patient. Whatever [they] need to understand and be motivated, we will work to provide it.” Rite Aid EVP pharmacy Robert Thompson explained that program is helping to avoid unnecessary hospitalizations and problems with medication due to use directive. It is one of the concrete ways in which Rite Aid can address “expanding health care costs,” he said. With last week’s announcement, Buffalo became the third market in which the company has formed strategic partnerships with large healthcare provider groups, joining Los Angeles, where Rite Aid has partnered with Glendale., Calif.-based Apollo Medical Holdings, and Greensboro/High Point, N.C., where it is partnered with Cornerstone Health Care. In Buffalo, Rite Aid is working with the Greater Buffalo United Accountable Healthcare Network. During the pilot phase of the program Rite Aid delivered more than 2,300 coaching sessions to about 1,500 patients who had enrolled in the program. Why are providers interested in partnering with Rite Aid on this? One major trend that DSN expects to see more of in 2014 and beyond, is that physicians, as a result of health reform, are going to need to assume and manage more risk in order to get paid. Payers will keep a sharp eye on measurable quality standards like reduced ER visits, fewer hospital re-admissions, better medication adherence and more. To get it done, providers are going to need to enlist new partners like Rite Aid. Chronic disease like diabetes and COPD “cost us a lot of dollars because we’re not spending a lot of time with patient,” explained Dr. Raul Vazquez, president of the Greater Buffalo United Accountable Healthcare Network. The Health Alliance model works, he said, because “it’s about having the time to sit down and navigate the system together,” and it brings together the “silos” of visits to pharmacists and doctors. Standley called the program and these types of integrated healthcare partnerships and alliances, “the future of health care delivery,” and a core part of Rite Aid’s long-term strategy. “It’s who we are and what we’re about,” he said.