Counter intelligence

The increasing interest in health and wellness among consumers is driving some grocers to strengthen the link between the pharmacy and other areas of the store, positioning the pharmacist as the health expert at the center of storewide initiatives.

This was one of the key points of discussion among participants of Progressive Grocer's third roundtable on health and wellness. The event, held this spring in Chicago during the All Things Organic trade event, was sponsored by health-and-wellness information provider Aisle7 (formerly Healthnotes, Inc.) and moderated by PG editor Joseph Tarnowski.

Participants were Laura Batcha, Organic Trade Association, Greenfield, Mass.; Judy Dodd, registered dietitian for Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh; Martin Goodwin, owner of Goodwin's Organics, Riverside, Calif.; Beckie Kier, All Things Organic, Portland, Maine; Art Hawkins, Aisle7, Portland, Ore.; Rick Moller, Tree of Life, Inc., St. Augustine, Fla.; Heather Paquette, Hannaford Bros. Co., Scarborough, Maine; and Jeff Seacrist, Aisle7.

In this excerpt from the exchange, the retailers and suppliers dissect the current and future potential role pharmacies can play in a store's total health-and-wellness offering.

Progressive Grocer: How are you working with your pharmacists to educate shoppers about healthy options throughout the store? For example, if somebody is filling a prescription for a heart medicine, will the pharmacist recommend complementary products such as vitamins or foods? And how do other store employees fit in?

Judy Dodd: We don't want employees making recommendations, because legally they're not allowed to do that. You've got to go with licensure. If it's the pharmacist, they're covered. The pharmacy is the driver, because pharmacists can identify those people who have specific needs. In our stores the pharmacist is there every day. Our nutrition people are only there casually or via e-mail.

So the pharmacists take a very strong part in our health-and-wellness initiatives, and they are the leader in most of our programs.

PG: What type of programs do you have?

Dodd: Diabetes education is our biggest one. We have certified diabetes educators. They either have a registered dietitian working with them, or they call me in when there's a question that needs a food relationship. I do the store tours with them, or we have a registered dietitian do the tours with them. Also, they do ongoing education for them so that they're updated and make sure that they know products.

We also have ongoing cooking and health fairs in our pharmacy areas to continue to put that link out there. Our pharmacy staff is very much a part of community events. Often these events will include a registered dietitian and a pharmacist, and we're doing food demonstrations, manning booths, being out there trying to answer the questions with consumers.

When you also look at the leading problems with chronic disease, and you have heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes, all of them are going to have pharmacological incidents. You're going to have some need to link the food to drug interaction. Our pharmacists become very much of a leading part of it.

PG: Do you do cross-category or cross-department promotions?

Dodd: Yes. And it goes beyond food. It goes into the health and beauty categories, it goes into the green area, because, obviously, our pharmacy people are also involved in supplements, are also involved in the whole area of needs for people who have very specialized needs.

Heather Paquette: We have 165 stores, and most of those have pharmacies, and we also do things to tie the pharmacy to the whole store. Some of the really basic things we do is, for example, in every prescription bag, the customer gets a Guiding Stars brochure and a Guiding Stars coupon, a dollar off a Guiding Stars item to kind of help create that link between the pharmacy and the store.

Beyond that, we've done wellness fairs in the stores. We have the nutritionists and the pharmacists working together to communicate about heart health or diabetes health. We also have partnered with our pharmacists to do some of the outreach and create heart-healthy nutrition binders. The last three pages of that are all about the pharmacy. It describes the Healthy Saver program for $4 prescriptions on over 400 different types of prescriptions, and it offers some tips on remembering to take your medication, because, if you are truly a heart patient and you're trying to have a good prognosis, you really do need to make sure medication is a part of that.

So pharmacists and nutritionists take part in the outreach and, where possible, the two go together and talk about kind of the overall health and wellness at Hannaford from a staffing standpoint.

We also do pharmacist outreach with the community, where possible, where they talk about health-and-wellness strategy and some of the work that they can do with different businesses or medical practices.

Jeff Seacrist: The problem that I see in a lot of stores is that the pharmacist is on the wrong side of the counter and, in most cases, is measured on things that have nothing to do with whether the customer is getting what they need from a whole-store or whole-diet or whole-health perspective. They're judged by how many scripts are they filling and what's the average turn in an hour. Because of that, coupled with the shortage of pharmacists, I think that stores are really missing out on an opportunity to leverage the pharmacy beyond just being a convenient place to get your prescription filled.

Dodd: Health and wellness are probably the top line when it comes to our pharmacy people. It's a challenge, though, because it's a lot easier to stand back there and count pills than it is to come up front and have to talk to the person. But it's a corporate initiative.

PG: Do you think that's from a lack of time or that the pharmacist is uncomfortable in that role?

Dodd: It's both. Actually counseling a client may get many pharmacists out of their comfort area. I love to talk about food and nutrition. They love to talk about pharmacy products. But they may be asked questions that they're not comfortable with, which is why a good database of information is really important, so they don't come off sounding stupid.
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