Wellness Ambassadors link pharmacy, front end
One of Rite Aid’s most farsighted innovations has been the creation of a unique store position, the wellness ambassador, whose primary focus is serving customers to help deliver a better in-store shopping experience. Indeed, EVP of Pharmacy Robert Thompson calls the ambassadors “probably the most distinguishing characteristic” of Rite Aid’s Wellness store retail layout.
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As members of the pharmacy team, wellness ambassadors report directly to the pharmacy manager and serve as a customer-focused link between the pharmacy and the front end. More than 2,000 wellness ambassadors are now spread throughout the chain, helping consumers to navigate to the healthy products and wellness support available in its stores.
“They’re working the sales floor all the time with an iPad to help customers who may have product questions, and to give them access to information they need to make an informed decision,” said Thompson. “And if that question is something that our pharmacist is the most appropriate person to answer, they’re instructed to personally introduce that patient directly to the pharmacist. In effect, our wellness ambassadors are building a bridge from the front end to the pharmacy — and really elevating the level of service delivered in a Rite Aid store that you might not find in another retail operator.”
“Our goal is to be a credible source for valuable information to make sure that patients get the answers they need, and get the attention they need relevant to their health and wellness,” Thompson added. “Our wellness ambassadors really create that differentiating experience, so we can build stronger patient relationships within our communities.”
The wellness ambassadors also perform community outreach at local senior centers, health fairs and other venues, said Thompson. “They proactively take our message out into the community to let people know what Rite Aid has to offer.”
Rite Aid renews mission around health care
Rite Aid is back — and in a very big way. After years of toiling in the shadows of its fast-growing and better-capitalized rivals, the company has regained its footing and market momentum with a renewed vitality and a sharply defined focus on its mission as a community-driven health-and-wellness retailer.
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Embracing its community healthcare role has been an essential ingredient in Rite Aid’s turnaround strategy. “Over the past several years, we have worked aggressively to leverage our resources … to provide care beyond prescriptions and meet the growing demand for convenient, high-quality healthcare services,” Chairman and CEO John Standley explained. “In addition to being a key catalyst for growth, our expanded health and wellness offering gives us additional tools for driving positive health outcomes and aligning our business with the future of health care.”
EVP of Pharmacy Robert Thompson elaborated on Rite Aid’s ambitious health and wellness goals. “We’ve been working diligently for the last several years on becoming a retail healthcare company,” he said. In pursuit of “making healthcare solutions more accessible and more affordable in the communities that we serve,” he told DSN, “we worked hard to expand the services our pharmacists can provide.”
To make this massive initiative a reality, Rite Aid is mobilizing a formidable array of resources. Chief among them: a legion of more than 11,000 in-store pharmacists who provide prescription and clinical services through a coast-to-coast network of nearly 4,600 drug stores in 31 states and the District of Columbia, more than a third of which have now been upgraded and totally converted to the boldly conceived Wellness store retail format. Those pharmacists have been trained to deliver a fast-expanding menu of disease management and preventive care services, including an increasing number of medication therapy management consultations, immunizations, chronic care interventions and a new “Quit for You” smoking cessation program.
Also new: a medication synchronization offering, called One Trip Refills, that provides Rite Aid customers the added convenience of picking up multiple medications once a month. It also enables Rite Aid pharmacists to have meaningful conversations with their patients about their medication regimen, overall health and their individual needs and wellness goals.
Investing in a broad health menu
The new med sync program is part of a much broader menu of pharmacist-delivered services aimed at putting Rite Aid front and center in the community health delivery spectrum. “We have a whole series of compliance and adherence interventions we drive at the point of service, trying to identify patients who can benefit from additional counseling,” Thompson said.
“We want our pharmacists to have more of a clinical role and be able to engage with patients more effectively,” added Rite Aid’s top pharmacist. “That could mean promoting effective wellness behaviors or helping those who are sick get well more quickly. We’re trying to build all of the assets around what we envision, so we’re now adding on expanded pharmacy services, focusing the pharmacist on additional compliance and adherence activities relative to medication therapy management.”
Key to that expanded service platform has been to “ensure that all of our pharmacists become certified immunizing pharmacists,” he said.
“We built that into a very large-scale program that we’re very proud of,” he noted. “We want our pharmacists to be able to provide accessible services in their stores. So immunizations are not only key to providing a fundamental, important preventive care service, they’re also an essential clinical pharmacy service as we define it.”
The immunization certification effort has already paid big dividends. Company pharmacists administered a record 3.7 million immunizations in fiscal 2015. Last year, Rite Aid also launched Vaccine Central, which Standley calls “a comprehensive set of online and in-store tools that promote the availability and importance of all vaccinations.”
A focal point for many of these efforts is Rite Aid’s ground-breaking Health Alliance collaborative care initiative, in partnership with some of the nation’s top regional health systems. The program, launched roughly two years ago, provides a framework for collaboration among physicians, Rite Aid pharmacists and Rite Aid care coaches trained by Health Dialog, a health coaching specialty firm purchased last year by Rite Aid.
The goal: A comprehensive care and support program for patients with chronic and polychronic health conditions, based on ongoing interventions with participating patients and the sharing of data among pharmacists, physicians and other members of a coordinated-care team, to improve health outcomes.
Adding depth to the company’s health service menu for patients and payers is an expanding presence in retail healthcare clinics through its recent purchase of RediClinic. Rite Aid is also moving into the pharmacy benefit management sphere with its recent, $2 billion acquisition of EnvisionRx Pharmaceutical Services, a leading, full-service PBM with projected 2015 revenues of $5 billion.
Aligning with patients and payers
All these efforts point to a newly energized, fully recharged and full-service health and wellness retail giant that can engage with patients, health providers and health plans, in thousands of communities across the United States, and on many levels. It requires serious investment in resources and training, said Thompson.
“You can’t be a retail healthcare organization unless you’re committed to developing or acquiring all of the capabilities to be able to do that,” he pointed out. “We believe that in order to control overall healthcare costs, you have to increase access, and you have to align the right provider with the right patient at the right time, in the right setting. So if you believe that someone’s home is the lowest-cost setting to deliver health care, then certainly the community pharmacy is a pretty cost-effective setting for the delivery of certain healthcare services.”
“We’re not going to take the place of the hospital or the emergency setting for traumas,” he said. “But there are things we can do, and certainly with the advent of technology there will be more things we can do in the community pharmacy to drive value for everybody in the health system.”
In support of that, the company also has invested heavily in pharmacy technology to “drive efficiency within the workflow,” said Thompson. “We need to be efficient in our dispensing process so we can free up the appropriate amount of time for our pharmacists to engage in these clinical activities.”
The company’s new Wellness store format, called Genuine Well Being, is built around the themes of accessible and affordable patient care. “It’s really been designed to convey our theme of wellness,” he added.
In addition, he said, “we’ve done a really good job of pinpointing the location of the pharmacist. When you come in the door, we have designed a clear path directly to the pharmacy along with appropriate signage calling out the ‘Pharmacist.’ If a store did not have a consultation room, we built a private consultation room because we believe that’s necessary going forward.”
“We believe that the pharmacist of the future will truly be measured on how well he or she drives outcomes,” Thompson declared. “And we need to make sure we have the best trained, most professional, most clinically oriented pharmacists, and that they will, through their training and knowledge, deliver best-in-class performance as it relates to delivering desired outcomes.”
Healing the community beyond health care
Rite Aid may be a company in the midst of a major transformation to provide greater access to health services, but there is one thing that hasn’t changed and won’t change — Rite Aid’s commitment to helping its neighbors.
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“I have worked at a lot of companies, but I’ve never worked for a company where the associates care so much about the communities they serve,” said Ken Martindale, Rite Aid president and COO, and president of its charitable giving arm The Rite Aid Foundation.
It really started with the company’s support of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. For more than 20 years, Rite Aid has been a major supporter of the organization. To date, Rite Aid has raised more than $75 million — including more than $6 million last year, Martindale said.
But it goes beyond CMNH, Martindale said, noting that The Rite Aid Foundation has become much more active in the past few years. The foundation fills three roles: helping the communities Rite Aid serves in times of natural disaster, and also providing relief to associates in times of traumatic need.
The third and biggest arm of The Rite Aid Foundation is KidCents, Rite Aid’s in-store, roundup program that supports nonprofit organizations dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of children. Members of the company’s wellness+ with Plenti loyalty program have the ability to donate their change to one of the hundreds of approved Kid-Cents charities on Kidcents.com.
Most recently, The Rite Aid Foundation partnered with Folds of Honor, a nonprofit organization based in Owasso, Okla., dedicated to providing educational scholarships to children of fallen or disabled veterans. To celebrate the partnership, the foundation made a contribution of $1.3 million.
“KidCents has been an overwhelming success, and it’s giving us an amazing opportunity to do even more for our communities,” Martindale said.
“In everything we’re doing, we’re making sure that it supports the communities in which we operate,” he said. “Folds of Honor, for example, is our first national strategic partner through KidCents. Our $1.3 million contribution will provide scholarships for 260 children — kindergarten through eighth grade — of fallen or severely disabled veterans, all in communities around our stores,” Martindale said. “And we’re going to work with our teams to engage with those families, to give them the scholarships. When you can actually get the opportunity to look someone in the eye and offer meaningful support, it’s really special.”