Future of Rite Aid is being tested here - The Buffalo News

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Future of Rite Aid is being tested here

In the near future, the corner drug store could become a more important link in the health care system, doing more than just doling out medications and administering the occasional flu shot.

Rite Aid has staked its future on it.

The giant pharmacy retailer has chosen Buffalo, one of its best markets in terms of market share, to pilot a program that links its stores to local doctors in hopes of coaching patients to better health.

Top-level Rite Aid executives were at a Bailey Avenue store Monday to unveil Rite Aid Health Alliance, a program intended to increase patient compliance with doctors’ orders for better health outcomes. Patients who enroll in the program will receive regular, one-on-one counseling from Rite Aid care coaches and a full, comprehensive review of their medication regimens.

Coaches will walk patients through their doctors’ individual health care instructions, educating patients and giving them clinical and motivational tools to manage chronic conditions and improve their overall wellbeing.

Targeted patients, who are referred to enroll in the program by their doctors, suffer from chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma, depression, hypertension, congestive heart failure. Coaches will educate patients about their diseases and provide exercise and nutritional counseling.

Care coaches are fluent in Spanish, have more time available than doctors to help patients understand their wellness goals, and work in a more relaxed, less intimidating setting than a busy doctor’s office, the program’s participants said.

“They come in, and we’re throwing medications at them, they have to get blood work done, we’re telling them they have to get this test and that done, and when they go home they’re like, ‘OK, what did he say again?’ ” said Dr. Raul Vazquez, president of Greater Buffalo United Accountable Healthcare Network.

The health care network is a 140-member independent physician association whose aim is to streamline care provided to Medicaid recipients. It is Rite Aid’s first partner in Buffalo.

Rite Aid CEO John Standley called Health Alliance a “first-of-its-kind integrated care model in the drug store industry” and said it represents “the future of health care delivery.”

“We’re a local community health care provider, in essence,” Standley said. “The pharmacist is one of the most trusted health care providers and also probably the most often seen health care provider, because you’re in here regularly.”

The plan aims to reduce emergency room and hospital readmissions, a metric that doctors who work under pay-for-performance models such as Accountable Care Organizations are under pressure to keep low.

“Doctors who are paid on patient outcome versus fee for service are much more interested in working with us on this type of model, because it really drives outcomes, which improves their performance and increases their compensation,” Standley said.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed patients of doctors who were paid for performance were healthier than those whose doctors received a fee for service.

In the highly competitive world of pharmacy chains, Rite Aid has branded itself a wellness destination. It has spent millions renovating stores to its health care-focused wellness concept, complete with iPad-wielding wellness ambassadors and the addition of GNC LiveWell store-within-a-store locations. Its Wellness Plus loyalty rewards program has tens of millions of active members and has been roundly declared a success.

“Our focus on wellness isn’t something that just happened,” said Ken Martindale, Rite Aid chief operating officer. “It’s our long-term strategy and it’s really who we are and what we’re all about.”

Rite Aid is piloting the Health Alliance program in Greensboro and High Point, N.C., as well as in the Greater Los Angeles area.

This is the third time Rite Aid has chosen Buffalo to pilot a program. It tested its Wellness Plus program here in 2009 and last year made Buffalo its first market to have the majority of its stores converted to the wellness format. Rite Aid has close to 100 stores in Western New York.

There is currently no cost to patients or their providers enrolled in the Health Alliance program, but Rite Aid will work on a payment model as it gains more experience with the program, it said.

Though he stressed compensation models are still being worked out, Standley said it is more likely physicians will end up compensating Rite Aid than the other way around – that as Rite Aid helps doctors achieve better outcomes and receive higher compensation, doctors would share some of that monetary success with Rite Aid.

Until then, doctors like Vazquez said he and his patients will see benefits of the partnership.

“I don’t have to pay for this facility or those employees, and I’m providing better care for my patients,” Vazquez said.

email schristmann@buffnews.com

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