RICHMOND, Va. -- In an effort to reduce costs while maximizing use of its stores' wellness centers, Ukrop's Super Markets here, has established an associate wellness program, said John Beckner, director of pharmacy and health services.
The retailer developed the "Healthy U" program with its new health insurer, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, after receiving a 30% rate increase from its previous insurer two years ago, he said. It is managed by Kim Swiger, category manager, pharmacy, who recently co-authored a study on osteoporosis, which was published in the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association.
The associates' program was implemented last fall, and Beckner said Ukrop's and Anthem are still analyzing the financial return. Beckner spoke at this month's Food Marketing Institute Pharmacy Conference, which was co-located with the FMI Show in Chicago.
The program is offered to all associates and dependents who are covered under the retailer's health plan, he said. A total of 1,000 associates, or 42.5%, and 1,300 people altogether are participating in the voluntary program, which travels from store to store. "We are hoping to increase those numbers for next year," he said. The initial focus for Healthy U is hypertension, diabetes and smoking cessation, while other projects include a health fair, skin cancer screenings and weight management seminars, Beckner said. "We need to not only look at our patients and our customers, but also at what we can provide our associates who work in our stores," he said.
In addressing the subject of differentiating a supermarket pharmacy from chain drug store competition, Beckner noted several inherent advantages, such as the convenience of one-stop shopping, the frequency of shopping visits, and the ability to leverage other departments. With a whole health initiative, working with other departments can be the key to addressing chronic problems like diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol, he said.
"We make an effort to differentiate ourselves by offering a number of value-added services," he said. For example, "health screenings are an excellent opportunity to drive customers into your store."
A side benefit of focusing on wellness and disease management is that the pharmacy becomes a more desirable place for pharmacists to work. "You really can't discount the opportunity to attract and retain pharmacists," Beckner said.
"We try to be a leader in not only providing products, but with health solutions," he said. These include the screenings and wellness centers, as well as a "Live Healthy, Be Healthy" newsletter, a diabetes shopping guide, a "Healthy Heart" shopping guide, Healthnotes kiosks, and a call-in cable television show with local physicians. "This has been a good way for us to cultivate some good relationships with the physician community," Beckner said.
Through Ukrop's Wellness Centers, the retailer conducts a pharmacy-based immunization program, working with nurses from the Visiting Nurses Association. The program started in 1998, a year after Virginia began allowing pharmacies to administer vaccinations. "People in our area are now used to coming to our stores to get their flu shots," he said. This has made it easier to expand into other vaccinations, such as those for pneumococcal pneumonia.