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Rite Aid COO Jim Peters outlines company’s new strategy

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Highlights RxEvolution plan.

CAMP HILL, Pa. — During HLTH VRTL 2020, the leading, large-scale event for health care innovation held last month, Rite Aid chief operating officer Jim Peters highlighted the company’s RxEvolution and how it will reshape the chain drug store industry in a keynote address to the conference. HLTH brings together all the major stakeholders of the health ecosystem, including payers, providers, employers, pharma, startups and investors, as well as representatives from government, media and industry analysts.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic completely flipped the retail industry — and the world for that matter — on its head, it had already become clear, in Peters’ view, that fundamental changes were needed to make health care work for people across the country. Conditions such as obesity, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues had become pervasive, and lack of sleep constituted a true health barrier while opioid abuse continued to be a national crisis. At the same time, people also faced higher-than-ever deductibles and longer-than-ever wait times to see a doctor, only to spend less time with that doctor once they got into the room. It’s the responsibility of those in the health care industry, Peters said, to respond to these issues.

Rite Aid’s new logo

Retail clinics, he noted, were one attempt to deal with these myriad issues and self-help apps were another. It became increasingly clear, however, that some of these care model innovations, such as retail pharmacies owning primary care clinics, which were designed to help cure the country’s broken system, actually had the opposite effect, according to Peters, which resulted in increasing utilization, further fragmenting care, detaching people from their integrated care teams — all causing health care consumers to fall through the cracks.

“We all realized that the health care system that we were in was in dire need of change well before COVID-19,” he said, adding that when he joined Rite Aid last fall, the company developed and embarked upon an entirely new strategy — not just a new strategy for Rite aid, but one for the entire industry, one that elevated pharmacists as the everyday weapon used by providers and health plans “to help keep patients and members connected to their care teams, adherent to their medications, aware of their care gaps and educated on a broader spectrum of remedies that go well beyond traditional medicines.”

This strategy — RxEvolution — represents a comprehensive plan that doubles down on Rite Aid’s pharmacy business and focuses on unlocking the value of pharmacies and pharmacists while revitalizing Rite Aid’s retail and digital experience and becoming the dominant mid-market pharmacy benefit manager. “We see an incredible opportunity for Rite aid to go deep in our communities and unlock the true value of the pharmacist,” Peters said. “From my career in health care, I’ve come to believe that pharmacists have been the single most underutilized providers and the answer to that missing link in the last mile of health care when people are not in a doctor’s office, but out and about living their everyday lives.”

Rite Aid’s full rebrand launch is far more than a new logo, according to Peters, and involves substance and impact that involves every single step of the consumer journey, both digitally and in-store — and lays out a new approach to pharmacy and its role in health care and how it can elevate health care to help communities thrive. Pharmacists, as Peters pointed out, are among the most trusted health care professionals in all of America, with more than 90% of consumers stating that they trust their pharmacists when it comes to their health care concerns and needs. Tapping into this trust, Peters said Rite Aid began reimagining its entire business strategy through that lens, exploring how the company could best enable and unleash pharmacists to address the mind, body and spirit of each and every customer.

“So the neighborhoods we serve can go beyond healthy and actually get thriving. And tying back to that broken health care system,” he said. “We knew if our pharmacists could be our consumers’ trusted everyday clinical touchpoint, someone they see handfuls of time in between each doctor’s visit, then our pharmacist could actually play a critical role in helping drive better health outcomes.” For Rite Aid, it’s a “neighborhood first approach,” which exists deep in the various communities Rite Aid serves.

The new strategy strengthens Rite Aid’s commitment to engaging consumers to guide them toward a healthy array of remedies and products that best elevate their whole being health. And by doing this, Peters emphasized, the company will function as the ultimate last-mile connector for those providers and health plan partners who serve them. But while trust and accessibility of Rite Aid pharmacists positions the company to help consumers clinically, Rite Aid understood from the beginning that providing the same routine pharmacy experience to its customers wouldn’t be enough. “We had to reinvent the way pharmacists worked in order to realize the profound potential impact that we can bring to this industry,” he said. “I do believe the pharmacist can be the whole being health advocate for every customer that comes into our stores, but they can’t do that if they continue to be stuck behind a production wall, filling pill bottles.”

To address this, Rite Aid shifted the more routine, mundane pharmacy work to technicians in order to free up pharmacists to be out in front so they could be better positioned to engage more frequently with customers. But Rite Aid didn’t stop there. “We challenged our pharmacists to think more broadly about the factors that contribute to their customer’s overall well-being beyond the script,” Peters said. Rite Aid has certified all 6,300-plus of its pharmacists as integrative pharmacy specialists so that they can educate consumers on a much more holistic set of alternative remedies that complement traditional medicines. “So we’re looking at pharmacists very differently,” Peters added. “We’re unlocking their potential for that perfect fusion where traditional therapies meet alternative remedies and being the whole health advocate for every single customer that comes into the pharmacy.”

And Rite Aid pharmacists are responding and are embracing this new role and “love the fact that they’re engaging in a way they envisioned when they actually chose to become a pharmacist.” To make all of this work, however, Peters said that Rite Aid must deliver an “equally exceptional” consumer experience both in-store and online, which is why Rite Aid is on the brink of bringing customers an entirely new Rite aid experience — “one with a clear purpose and with a revitalized retail and digital experience.” Part of that experience involves speaking to Rite Aid’s “new growth target audience” — Millennial and Gen X women. Or, as Peters described them, those everyday hero women between the ages of 25 and 49 who are seeking not only to take care of themselves, but also their children, aging parents, and even their pets.

These women not only represent roughly one-third of the U.S. population and about half of all front-end drug store shoppers, they are looking for merchandise with “health and wellness” attributes, which is why the focus on natural, organic clean cruelty free, fair trade and chemical free is integral to Rite Aid’s RxEvolution. Rite Aid is in the process of overhauling its assortment of merchandise to put a curated set of products that have these characteristics in-store along with its pharmacists consulting on whole health, not just acute and chronic illness, and providing holistic alternative solutions in areas such as immunity, sleep, stress, anxiety — “all those daily struggle items that usually never make it to a doctor conversation or even a diagnosis.”

But this new strategy goes beyond the pharmacy counter and even the front-end aisles; it’s about the total store experience and that can be seen in Rite Aid’s “store of the future” that will go beyond the traditional drug store. The company’s vision of the pharmacist being front and center isn’t just symbolic. The new stores will physically have the pharmacist out in front and “not behind a wall counting pills.”

The new store will include virtual care rooms, allowing Rite Aid pharmacists to have a mechanism to not only consult, but also connect customers to their community-based care teams or other providers as appropriate. “The store of the future definitely is a completely different experience than any other retail pharmacy in the market,” Peters said. “You feel welcome. It feels fresh. It’s light. It encourages you to browse and shop and identify new products that you may not have even known were on the market.”


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