Kroger Health president on the future of pharmacies and their IT infrastructure

Photo: Kroger Health

Colleen Lindholz is president of Kroger Health, where she leads a team of 22,000 healthcare practitioners that serve more than 13 million customers across the U.S.

She was instrumental in leading Kroger’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular fostering access to vaccines and combating vaccine hesitancy. To date, Kroger has administered more than 4.7 million COVID vaccines.

The organization launched $1 million giveaways and groceries for a year to increase vaccination rates. In 2022, Kroger won the American Pharmacists Association Immunization Champion Award, in recognition of high COVID-19 vaccine rates across their communities.

Lindholz is in a unique position to talk about the state of healthcare today, which is why Healthcare IT News sat down with her for an interview.

In this discussion, she talks about her beliefs about a need for pharmacy-specific tools incorporated into EHRs and population health platforms for more holistic, coordinated care; the future role of pharmacists in healthcare; why burnout is a growing problem among pharmacists and strategies pharmacies can apply to combat burnout; and the growing role pharmacists play in population health.

Q. You contend there is a critical need for pharmacy-specific tools incorporated into EHRs and pop health platforms for more holistic, coordinated care. Please elaborate.

A. For decades, acute and post-acute clinicians have had access to EHRs to help coordinate care and make informed decisions to drive positive care outcomes. These tools have been designed for the unique needs of physicians, nurses, etc. – many of whom have worked in collaboration with the vendors and software designers to create a tool that fits their needs and workflow.

The pharmacy space lacks tailored tools that meet their unique needs. While pharmacists are a fundamental component to the care continuum, they have not historically been viewed as caregivers.

The perception is pharmacists only dispense medication. This perception is inaccurate. The COVID pandemic, for example, was a key influencer in shifting the mindset of the critical role pharmacists play. They are trusted, accessible and highly trained care providers who have the skillset to provide care well beyond medication dispensing.

However, in order for pharmacists to maximize their potential as caregivers, they need to be armed with the tools that fit their unique workflows and enable them to capture a 360-degree view of the patient to support the physicians that are overseeing their care.

If pharmacists have the patient information at their fingertips, they have the potential to support patients in their community with many population health efforts, such as obesity, smoking cessation, family planning, chronic diseases and other important care areas.

Q. What do you see as the future role of pharmacists in healthcare, and what about them leveraging technology innovations to increase revenue streams from services provided?

A. As I alluded to, the COVID pandemic put a large spotlight on the vital role of pharmacists – from testing, vaccinations and now treatments. In addition, state and federal legislation is recognizing pharmacists as caregivers – now pharmacists have the authority to prescribe COVID medication.

Pharmacists must capitalize on this momentum and demand additional expansion of eligible clinical services provided.

How often do you ask your pharmacist a question about a medication or how to alleviate an ailment? Oftentimes, pharmacists are not reimbursed for these consultation services. EHRs designed for pharmacists must provide the same tools hospitals and physicians offices have to bill for services provided.

With the right legislation and tools provided, pharmacists can expand the scope of their services, and become an accessible, affordable clinician who can help diagnose conditions and/or work in collaboration with a patient’s physician to ensure the patient is adhering to their treatment plans.

Q. How is burnout a problem among pharmacists, and what are a couple of strategies pharmacies can apply to combat burnout?

A. Like most industries today, a lack of staff is the No. 1 contributor to burnout. A few ways burnout can be alleviated include:

Q. You suggest there is a growing role pharmacists play in population health and providing accessible and affordable care to consumers. Please talk about this role.

A. Despite the average American living within five miles of a pharmacy, pharmacists remain one of the most underutilized healthcare resources in their communities. The good news is we are seeing a shift in the perception of pharmacists that goes beyond medication dispensing. Leveraging their exceptional training and education, pharmacists are poised to become the core of community healthcare.

Pharmacists are a trusted resource for patients to obtain information about their medication and how it relates to their medical condition. Expanding these pharmacists’ roles to guide the community in other ways is valuable.

Just to name a few, educating on chronic conditions, counseling on smoking cessation, coaching for therapeutic diet compliance, promoting disease prevention are within the pharmacists’ scope. With such efforts being incorporated into daily workflow, it will drive more accessible and affordable care to the communities they serve.

Finally, the social determinants of health are a huge challenge impacting patients today, and pharmacists are uniquely positioned to close the gap in inequitable care. At Kroger Health, there are many efforts I am proud of, such as promoting the concept of “food as medicine” and ensuring there is a variety of food that is affordable and accessible.

In addition, I am proud of the efforts our pharmacists have made in increasing COVID vaccination accessibility across our communities. In fact, they were awarded the American Pharmacists Association Immunization Champion Award in recognition of high COVID-19 vaccine rates across our communities.

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Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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