Rite Aid CEO wants to open pharmacy-style stores and make pharmacists available 24/7

Heyward Donigan, CEO of Rite Aid, wants to modernize the company’s 60-year-old pharmacy business by opening smaller pharmacy-like stores in underserved areas and eventually making 24-hour pharmacists more accessible.

We really want people to see the pharmacist as they do in Europe, as a frontline healthcare professional that you deal with in some cases 30 times, 40 times a year and more than any other healthcare professional . Donigan told FOX Business.

It is part of their plan to define “the modern pharmacy”.

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A person enters a Rite-Aid store on December 22, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Mario Tama/Getty Images/Getty Images)

Currently, the company offers 40,000 pharmacy “chats” with premium customers each year. But Donigan wants to expand this “significantly”.

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Wellness+ Rewards members can now chat online directly with pharmacists all day long for instant help with prescriptions and medication questions, instead of having to go to the store. At night, members of Health Dialogue, Rite Aid’s multichannel health coaching service, can chat directly with registered nurses when they need immediate help.

The goal is to expand pharmacist access and make these chats available to all customers 24/7. The company plans to hire more pharmacists who will also be in charge of the service at night. Donigan also wants to add video chat to the interface, although the company doesn’t have a timeline for that just yet.

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A person walks in front of the Rite Aid pharmacy on May 27, 2021 in New York City. (Noam Galai/Getty Images/Getty Images)

“Being a modern pharmacy means we must offer our customers the most convenient service,” said Donigan. “That means a clear focus on digital capabilities and technology platforms like our chat function.”

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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 a healthcare provider to that community.

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“It’s really a pharmacist model, where the pharmacist is there, there are over-the-counter prescriptions, vitamins and dietary supplements, remedies, first aid, but of course medicines, too,” she said.

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a Rite Aid location in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke/AP Newsroom)

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Over the next few months, the company will open test stores in adjacent markets such as Indiana, upstate New York and West Virginia.

Going forward, Rite Aid will focus on expanding its presence in underserved markets with smaller format stores. As of June this year, 145 stores have closed, which Donigan says will be the final number.

“We specifically look at markets where there isn’t another pharmacy within a 5-mile radius,” she said. “And usually these are markets where there really aren’t any healthcare providers.”