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12 New in-store, online, and mobile drugstore services

Services that save you time and money

Published: August 2014

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Tampons, Tic Tacs, Tylenol, and maybe a prescription or two if you have time to wait in line. If that’s your typical drugstore visit, how about a skin cancer and cholesterol screening? Or help quitting smoking? Or drugs by drone? Pharmacies are rolling out all kinds of new in-store, online, and mobile services to make it more convenient to stay healthy. They might even save you a trip to the doctor.

“It’s not just about filling pill bottles,” B. Douglas Hoey, CEO of the National Community Pharmacists Association, said. “Pharmacies are starting to offer more comprehensive services—everything from making sure that the medicines you take are right for you to preventive care, as well as health monitoring.”

It can be difficult in large stores to talk with pharmacists or to even find them. In a recent national Consumer Reports survey, one-third of shoppers at chain pharmacies and big-box stores who said they weren’t comfortable discussing personal medical concerns at the drugstore thought the pharmacist seemed too busy anyway. To help you get more up close and personal with your pharmacist, Walgreens has moved them to desks up front in some of its stores. Many drugstores also have a consultation area; don’t be shy about asking to talk there rather than at the pick-up counter. Having a good relationship with a pharmacist you can trust is the No. 1 reason to choose a drugstore, says Lucinda Maine, Ph.D., CEO of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy.

Do you ever forget to take your prescribed medications? Sam’s Club, Walmart, and some independent drugstores will put your pills in individualized, daily packets instead of the usual bottles so that you can tell at a glance that a dose has been taken. Many independent pharmacies also offer compounding, which means that they can customize a medication to suit your needs. For example, they can make a medication without a certain dye for a patient with an allergy or create a liquid version of a drug for someone who has trouble swallowing pills. Or the pharmacist can add a favorite flavor to your child’s medicine to make it easier for him or her to take it.

For many customers, it can be more convenient to visit a neighborhood pharmacy than to make a trip to the doctor. So some pharmacies now offer health and wellness programs to help keep tabs on blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. For example, Walgreens will perform a weight analysis based on your waist circumference, body mass index, and body composition (percentage of body fat and skeletal muscle). Kroger and other pharmacies offer smoking-cessation programs. At certain times of the year, pharmacies may also offer diagnostic tests such as bone-density and skin-cancer screenings at special store events.

 

If you try one of those wellness programs, be sure the pharmacist is certified and trained to provide that kind of counseling, and let your doctor know what you’re up to. “Make sure your pharmacist forwards any test results to your doctor’s office so that they can be included in your medical chart,” Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., Consumer Reports' chief medical adviser, said. “And always follow up with your physician to verify the diagnosis and discuss possible treatments.”

Drugstores are expanding their food supply beyond the snack aisles. Today it’s common for chains to stock bread, milk, yogurt, cereal, soup, pasta, ice cream, frozen dinners, and more, in hopes that their stores will become a go-to destination when you need to pick up a few things in between your bigger stock-up trips to the supermarket. Many drugstores are also stocking more fresh foods, including produce and even meat. Rite Aid, for example, turned a handful of stores in the Greenville, S.C., area into hybrid drugstore-groceries. Called Save-A-Lot Food Stores, they carry a limited selection of meat, produce, frozen food, and dairy products. Some drugstores even offer prepared meals. At a recent trip to a Duane Reade drugstore in New York City, one of our employees found an in-store sushi counter, complete with a chef, and a fresh juice bar.

You realize at 3 a.m. that you forgot to take your meds, and you’re worried. You can’t call your doctor at that hour to find out what to do about it, but you might be able to ask at your pharmacy. Rite Aid and Walgreens offer a 24-hour live chat feature for registered users. The free and confidential chats allow you to contact a pharmacist with questions or concerns about prescriptions, over-the-counter medicines, potential drug interactions and side effects, or anything else about your drugs.

You know that you can get a flu shot at the pharmacy thanks to all of the ads and the signs, but you might not know that you can now get other vaccines, too. Though rules vary by state, CVS, Rite Aid, and other chains offer vaccinations for chicken pox, hepatitis A and B, the human papillomavirus, measles, pertussis (whooping cough), pneumonia, polio, shingles, and tetanus. And many of those pharmacies also offer travel immunizations. For example, Target and Walgreens cover shots you may need for an overseas trip, such as those for meningitis, typhoid, or other diseases. The pharmacy will even file with your insurance, and plans cover many vaccines with no co-pay, so you might not be charged.

No ifs, ands, or butts

In February the CVS chain announced that it would end cigarette sales in its stores. Note to other pharmacies: You should be kicking the habit, too—especially if you’re pushing health and wellness programs, including smoking-cessation services.


Beyond shots, screenings, and pharmacist consultations, some chain pharmacies, including CVS and Walgreens, are contributing to your primary care through in-store walk-in clinics staffed by nurse practitioners or physician assistants. No appointments are necessary, and many are open seven days per week, with extended evening and weekend hours. The clinics are popping up in more and more neighborhoods, offering a convenient option if you don’t want to wait to see your doctor for a routine physical or for nonemergencies such as bronchitis, burns, head lice, pink eye, rashes, strep throat, and even migraines and minor back pain. In-store clinics can also provide specialized support for conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and high blood pressure, including evaluations and treatment plans. Publix, for example, offers a program to help patients manage diabetes, and Kroger offers consultations aimed at helping customers manage their meds. The clinics can even provide you with travel medications you may need for prevention of malaria, motion sickness, and traveler’s diarrhea.

 

“The pharmacy is stepping in to fill gaps in therapy,” Kathleen Jaeger, spokeswoman for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, said. Most appointments are covered by insurance or are offered at low cost; be sure to ask about costs up front. 

Drug-delivering drones sound like something from a sci-fi movie. But they’re being launched this summer by a company based in San Francisco called QuiQui (pronounced “quickie”). It will deliver pharmacy orders to customers via hovering drone, for a fee: $1 per delivery, plus the cost of your goods.

Getting your prescription refilled is easier than ever, with less waiting. Walgreens lets you skip the line altogether by picking up at one of the store’s self-service kiosks. Most chain drugstores allow you to order refills online or via their mobile apps and will send a text message when it’s ready. And a number of pharmacies now also offer a service called refill synchronization. Pharmacists can coordinate all of your refills so that they happen at the same time, which is more convenient than picking up your various prescriptions at different times during the month. And Kroger, Rite Aid, Walgreens, and other pharmacies will put your refills on autopilot, replenishing and readying them for pickup automatically a few days before they run out.

 

If you prefer in-person refill orders but can’t deal with a long wait, consider switching to an independent pharmacy. Our recent survey found that you’re much less likely to wait at an independent pharmacy than at another store. Only 7 percent of customers at independents reported that a prescription wasn’t ready when promised during the previous 12 months; just 4 percent complained of long waits. By contrast, 19 percent of shoppers at pharmacy chains found that a prescription wasn’t ready, and 21 percent experienced long waits at the service counter.

With the Walgreens Steps With Balance Rewards program, you’ll get 20 points for each mile you walk, run, or cycle, 20 points per logged weigh-in or blood glucose or blood pressure reading, and 20 points for logging other healthy activities, such as yoga or swimming. And for every 5,000 points, you’ll get $5 to spend in the store. The program also lets you add your personal wellness goals, track your program, and earn badges as you make progress. You can even sync it to your FitBit, iHealth, or Jawbone fitness-tracking device, or connect it to smart-phone apps such as MapMyFitness, MyFitnessPal, and RunKeeper. The Rite Aid chain also offers several wellness rewards programs tailored to your health needs. For instance, you can sign up for Wellness65+ and get 20 percent off your purchases on the first Wednesday of each month, a free pharmacist consultation, and other nice benefits.

By early 2015, Rite Aid will roll out 4,100 digital kiosks created by a company called Higi, where you will be able to take your blood pressure and pulse, and check your weight and body mass index. You’ll also be able to set up an online account to input your personal health data and track it as often as you like to measure your progress as you work toward your personal wellness goals.

Many big-box stores and pharmacies accept and dispose of unused and expired medications for you, helping to keep them from ending up in the wrong hands or being disposed of in ways that can pollute waterways. Target, for instance, provides return bags for mailing unused medications directly to a location for safe disposal. Two online resources, DisposeMyMeds.org and Sharps Compliance’s Pharmacy Locator, can help you find pharmacies near you that accept your leftover medications.

Meds for pets

Some pharmacies will make up meds for your pets, too—and might charge less than the vet charges. Kmart, Rite Aid, Target, and Walgreens can fill prescriptions for your beloved furball, as long as that same drug is also prescribed to humans. Prices can be as low as $4 for a month’s supply. At Giant/Eagle, Kroger, Target, and Walgreens, pets can be enrolled in their discount programs. And pharmacists can turn many pills into a flavored liquid. Yes, a spoonful of chicken flavor can make the medicine go down!


Editor's Note:

This article also appeared in the August/September 2014 issue of ShopSmart magazine. This article and related materials are made possible by a grant from the state Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program, which is funded by the multistate settlement of consumer-fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin (gabapentin).


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