Rite Aid CEO Heyward Donigan wants to modernize the company's 60-year-old retail pharmacy business by opening smaller apothecary-like shops in underserved areas and eventually, make pharmacists more accessible 24/7.
"What we really want people to do is think of the pharmacist as they do in Europe, as the front line health care professional that you interact with, in some cases 30 times, 40 times a year and more than any other health care professional," Donigan told FOX Business.
It's part of her plan to define "the modern pharmacy."
Currently, the company offers 40,000 pharmacy "chats" with rewards customers every year. Donigan, however, wants to expand this "significantly."
As of now, Wellness+ rewards members can chat directly with pharmacists online throughout the day for immediate help with prescriptions and questions on medications rather than having to walk into the store. At night, members of Health Dialogue, Rite Aid's multichannel health coaching service, can chat directly with registered nurses if they need immediate assistance.
The goal is to expand pharmacist access and make these chats available to all customers 24/7. The company plans to hire more pharmacists to staff the service, even at night. Donigan also wants to enhance the interface to include video chat, although the company doesn't have a timeline for that yet.
"Being a modern pharmacy means that we need to deliver service in the most convenient manner for our customers," Donigan said. "That means a significant focus on digital capabilities and technology platforms like our chat function."
In fact, she wants it to feel like customers have a "pharmacist on your phone or in your pocket." The goal, she says, is for the pharmacist to be seen as the health care provider for that community.
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"It's really an apothecary model, where the pharmacist is there, there are over-the-counter prescriptions, vitamins and supplements, remedies, first aid, but also, of course, medications," she said.
Over the next few months, the company will roll out test stores in contiguous markets such as Indiana, upstate New York and Western Virginia.
Moving forward, Rite Aid's focus will be on expanding its footprint into underserved markets with smaller format stores. It closed 145 stores as of this June, which Donigan says will be the final number.
"We're looking specifically at markets where there isn't another pharmacy within 5 miles," she said. "And usually, these are markets where there really aren't health care providers either."