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Collaboration key in boosting outcomes

BY David Orgel

In today’s healthcare ecosystem, it’s much better to partner than to go it alone.

That realization — coming as it does at a time of ballooning healthcare costs and daunting chronic conditions — is increasingly driving stakeholder collaboration across the industry to improve outcomes.

This was a key theme at the Drug Store News Industry Issues Summit in New York City, where industry leaders said retailers, providers, payers and technology companies need to work more closely together to improve patient journeys across a range of touchpoints. The discussion was part of a panel on “Payer Partnerships and Delivering Outcomes.”

“Collaboration is the key to medicine,” said Marc Watkins, chief medical officer and vice president of Nashville, Tenn.-based The Little Clinic/Kroger. “It puts the patient at the center of the things that we do.”

Panel moderator Dave Wendland, vice president of strategic relations at Waukesha, Wis.-based Hamacher Resource Group, said that collaboration involves “simplifying the path to wellness, the path to recovery and the path to health management.”

To see a PDF of this story as it appeared in print, click here. 

Shannon Huneke

Shannon Huneke

Shannon Huneke, UnitedHealthcare’s senior director of strategic alliances, said collaboration enables synergies and makes the healthcare journey easier for consumers. She cited her organization’s alliances and partnerships with such retailers as Walmart, Kroger and Walgreens, among others.

“We can’t do it alone, nor should we do it alone,” she said. “We see tremendous opportunities among our strategic partners, including retailers, pharma, consumer goods companies and others.”

Such retail venues as pharmacies and grocery stores are great places to recruit customers into a “patient-centric ecosystem,” but retailers can’t do it alone, said Alex Hurd, senior director of health and wellness transformation at Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart.

“It is, with organizations such as manufacturers, payers, providers and technology companies, that we can start building and accelerating the move to such an ecosystem,” he said.

New strategies and technology solutions
Companies are developing new approaches as they pursue collaborative business models. For example, Johnson & Johnson Consumer has engaged in both external and internal collaboration, said Geoff Betrus, the New Brunswick, N.J.-based company’s senior director of shopper solutions.

“We are developing collaborative partnerships with our external customers — retailers, payers and providers,” he said. “We are also driving collaboration internally at Johnson & Johnson across our three business sectors — consumer, pharmaceuticals and medical devices. As the world’s largest healthcare company, J&J is working to bring our collective expertise and assets to bear to benefit every patient on their respective journey — especially at the point when they make the transition as patient back to a consumer.”

He said that some five years ago, he wouldn’t have thought the consumer organization would be working with such partners as UnitedHealthcare, Aetna or Methodist Hospital. “But we are doing that today,” he said. “We feel there is opportunity to bring different ecosystem partners together to co-create and influence innovative solutions, and our efforts are focused on helping to facilitate these connections.”

The growth of collaboration has been creating opportunities for new technologies that, in turn, further boost efforts through data integration. A case in point is the Chicago-based company higi, whose U.S. network of more than 11,000 health stations enables consumers to obtain biometric health screenings at retail and other community locations nationwide.

Vicki Harter

Vicki Harter

“The longitudinal data that’s available at our biometric stations is augmented by Fitbit data,” said Vicki Harter, higi’s vice president of solutions marketing. “More than 80 different wearable devices can be integrated into a higi account. People can take health risk questionnaires and surveys. That provides the ability to use that data to stratify populations and then steer them to the right locations, whether it’s a retail pharmacist or a nutritionist, for example, and to identify what the barriers are in adherence and really help them.”

Harter said industry partnerships are the best approach to overcoming hurdles. “The strategy has to come from that collaboration within the payer, provider, retail and community organizations,” she said.

Technology has a big role to play both for patients who are ready to make changes to their behaviors, and those who aren’t yet committed, said Jeff Key, managing director at Shreveport, La.-based PioneerRx, which develops pharmacy management systems for retail chains and independent pharmacy.

“Obviously, technology can help patients who already [are] determined they need to be adherent, with tools to be adherent,” Key said. “There also is a role for a different set of tools to try to convince somebody they need to be adherent. How do you use technology to make people care? It needs to be more fun, possibly through gamification, so it allows people to be winners.”

Improving outcomes for diabetes
Industry stakeholders are taking a deeper look at how collaboration impacts different stages in patient journeys. A case in point involves diabetes, where it’s important that each partner is on the same page for each patient.

Geoff Betrus

Geoff Betrus

“It’s about how you weave it together, and how you inform the care team, through their UnitedHealthcare nurse navigator, the pharmacist at Walmart or the nurse practitioner at Kroger,” said J&J’s Betrus. “If the entire care team is saying the same thing, saying it in a way that has meaning, connecting with the patient on an emotional level versus just telling the patient ‘you need to do X, Y or Z,’ then you’re going to have meaningful change that will result in a healthier patient. There will be value for every stakeholder in the equation.”

Betrus added, “That’s why it’s so important that we look at collaboration beyond just manufacturer and retailer — we have to involve the entire healthcare ecosystem. If we do this successfully, we will build connected patient journeys that amplify the patient’s chances of becoming and staying healthier.”

Addressing such a challenge as diabetes also involves using data and intelligence to predict the best ways to help our members and shared patients, said UnitedHealthcare’s Huneke.

“We see the opportunity to start applying everything that we know about our consumer, in terms of the claims data, but also in terms of predictive modeling,” she said. “It’s about how we would index an individual, who perhaps may be pre-diabetic, and engage them in a conversation, into a one-one relationship by entering into a new personalized dynamic with their insurance company, meeting their needs every step of the way.”

The retail store can help identify needs, Walmart’s Hurd said.

“For example, Walmart has [more than] 140 million customers coming through its stores every week in the [United States],” Hurd said. “Those are a lot of touchpoints. How do you use these moments of engagement to develop a platform for early detection, and then funnel the patient into the greater healthcare system for those individuals that may require follow-up treatment? And then really take a team-based, collaborative approach for supporting the patient and executing his or her treatment regimen.”

Patient education is crucial
Educating patients is essential to solving health challenges, particularly at a time when costs from chronic conditions are surging, Watkins of The Little Clinic/Kroger said.

Marc Watkins

“An engaged patient is probably our best defense against this,” he said, adding that patients can be made more active by “engaging them with education, engaging them with the opportunity to learn about their conditions, improving that health literacy score.”

An important component of education to create engagement is personalizing initiatives for shoppers, Watkins said. He asserted that there will be challenges for “those who don’t personalize, and don’t personalize it to the effect that we can engage with them throughout the journey. We can know the shopper through analytics, through big data, through AI, whatever it may be, in a way that we can capitalize on what’s important to them.”

He said personalization is crucial not only for retailers, “but also for other healthcare systems and healthcare entities in this ecosystem.”

Moreover, he indicated that personalization can extend beyond the pharmacy counter, noting that his organization looks at food as medicine. Kroger has implemented a program in which registered dietitians and store associates help shoppers — in particular those with disease-specific needs — navigate the store for better nutrition.

“It’s very powerful,” he said. “How do we link the dietitians with our clinical pharmacists, with our other clinical entities in order to driver better behaviors?”

Wendland proposed a redefinition of the retail supply chain for industry players who want to make improvements in health outcomes. That supply chain for the patient, he said, “perhaps begins at the pharmacy or in the grocery aisles. However, it now extends to clinics, doctors’ offices, health plans and into the homes. That’s the retail supply chain, and we all need to be participating in it.”

Wendland concluded, “The status quo is not going to be acceptable in the long run in terms of aligning resources, of partnering, of looking for those areas of collaboration.”

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Weis Markets posts record sales of $3.5 billion for 2017

BY Michael Johnsen

Weis Markets Tuesday afternoon recorded a 10.5% increase in annual 2017 sales to $3.5 billion.

“In 2017, we achieved record sales of $3.5 billion and generated our 15th consecutive quarter of increased comparable store sales. During this time, we also worked to efficiently integrate 44 newly acquired stores,” Jonathan Weis, Weis Markets chairman and CEO, said. “We have done much to position our company for future profitable sales growth.”

The company attributed its comparable annual sales increases of 1.5% in 2017 to continuing price investments, disciplined sales promotions and enhanced customer experience.

For the fourth quarter, the Sunbury, Pa.-based grocer posted sales increases of 2.2% while comparable store sales were up 1.2% when adjusted for the extra week in 2016. During the thirteen-week period ended Dec. 30, the company’s fourth quarter sales were $883.7 million compared to $925.1 million for the fourteen-week period ended on Dec. 31, 2016. The company’s net income increased 54.7% to $63.7 million while earnings per share totaled $2.37 primarily driven by a $49.3 million decrease in deferred income tax due to the U.S. Government enacting the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Fourth quarter operating income was $22.3 million compared to $27 million for the same period in 2016. Approximately, $1.8 million of the difference was due to the additional week in 2016. The remainder of the difference in operating income was due to the company’s promotional programs and price investments; continued retail deflation combined with cost inflation and assimilation of 44 stores acquired in 2016.

 

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Walmart to expand grocery delivery service

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Walmart is giving Amazon and its newest acquisition a run for its money in the online grocery delivery war.

Walmart is expanding its online grocery delivery service to 800 stores by the end of the year, a move that will serve more than 40% of U.S. households. The program, which is currently available in six markets, will grow to serve more than 100 metro areas across the country.

Customers can place orders online or through the Walmart Grocery app. Both options enable shoppers to purchase fresh produce, meat, seafood and bakery items, along with pantry staples, consumables and seasonal general merchandise. All items feature the same prices found in Walmart stores, Tom Ward, VP, digital operations, Walmart U.S., said in a blog on the company’s website.

Personal shoppers and crowd-sourced delivery services are used to shop for and deliver fresh groceries to customers’ doorsteps. More than 18,000 personal shoppers are involved in the program, and “thousands more” will be added this year, according to Walmart.

To participate in the program, associates must complete a three week training program that teaches them how to pick merchandise, including selecting the freshest produce, and the best cuts of meat. More than 800 Walmart stores will be used to fulfill orders, the discounter reported.

The Groceries Delivery service costs $9.95, and requires a $30 minimum order. Orders can also be delivered the same day.

The service is augmented by Walmart’s Online Grocery Pickup service that allows online customers to pick up orders at stores without ever getting out of their cars. The service is now available in 1,200 stores. Another 1,000 locations will be added this year, according to Walmart.

Walmart’s decision to expand its grocery delivery service takes a swing at Amazon as it expands its own grocery delivery service. The online giant announced last month that it launched free, two-hour deliveries of natural and organic products from Whole Foods through its Prime Now program in Atlanta and San Francisco. The service initially launched in January in Austin, Cincinnati, Dallas and Virginia Beach, with plans for continued expansion across the U.S. throughout 2018.

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