Rite Aid has done it again. And I mean that in a bad way. They’ve seemingly topped even themselves in the category of coming up with bad ideas.
Why would I say this about one of the largest retail pharmacy chains? Look no further than their latest idea to validate my point- the wellness ambassador. Basically, Rite Aid wants to have employees they call “wellness ambassadors” out in their stores helping customers. And they have white coats, just like a pharmacist. There is just one problem. They’re not pharmacists at all.
Honestly, the company that brought the “15 Minute-Guarantee” to the retail pharmacy world is capable of anything. That is why I’m not surprised at this latest gimmick. But what I am surprised at is the reaction to their plans. Or I should say lack of reaction?
You see, these wellness ambassadors are out front helping customers in Rite Aid stores. They have white coats on which could imply that they are actually healthcare providers such as pharmacists. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. And that is what scares me.
I went ahead and found one of Rite Aid’s job postings for this wellness ambassador position. What may interest you is the qualifications for the position according to Rite Aid’s own job posting:
Education and/or Experience-
“High school diploma or general education degree (GED), plus one (1) year experience in the retail or healthcare industry with experience in vitamin and/or OTC medicine; or equivalent combination of education and experience.”
Did you happen to notice the complete lack of healthcare degrees or experience needed? I sure did. And while the company assures us that their wellness ambassadors will not counsel patients, how is this kind of employee not misleading to customers who may rightly assume that the person in the white coat in front of them is a healthcare professional of some kind? Even if they don’t counsel, it is deceptive marketing that purposely misleads consumers into believing those ambassadors are giving expert advice.
Thankfully, I’m not the only one who thinks this is a bad idea or is questioning whether or not consumers will understand the position or it’s qualifications. According to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, two United States Senators sent a letter to Rite Aid questioning the wellness ambassador position. Their concerns, like mine, stem from the idea that this might be considered deceptive marketing. This subject has also been handled admirably by fellow pharmacy bloggers Steve Ariens and Jim Plagakis. I’m just reiterating the point here for those that might have missed the story already.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at this story considering the source- Rite Aid. They are the ones who’s stock price could only must $2 based on a rumor of a Walgreens buy-out. I think if I were Walgreens and I had money burning in my pocket, I’d look elsewhere than buying this particular company. The debt burden alone will probably kill it’s chances of happening.
I guess I’m just disappointed in Rite Aid. These wellness ambassadors seem to have the purpose of directing patients to buy OTC products like the GNC brand supplements Rite Aid actively promotes. And if they want to throw an employee out front and use them to market OTC products, I don’t have a problem with it. But the white coat really changes things for me. And who can be confident these employees don’t start counseling patients on OTC products?
I’m disappointed that state boards haven’t stepped in and questioned Rite Aid regarding this new promotion (if that is what you even call this). But they did sit idly (except in NY) while the 15 Minute Guarantee was rolled out. And there are chain representatives on many BOPs now. Maybe they are purposefully turning a blind eye to this mess?
It is a scary world we live in when large companies like Rite Aid can blatantly mislead consumers in this manner without the least bit of resistance from lawmakers or state boards. And I just don’t buy that counseling isn’t happening with these positions. If a pharmacy technician did these sorts of things they’d be reprimanded by the state board. Yet somehow these ambassadors with less training than technicians are allowed to sit out front with white coats on without being questioned? Anyone that can explain this to me is free to do so!
I remember when I was in school on rotations. It was a big deal to have a white coat on. But I had to have one that was shorter than the long coats typical of medical students and doctors. And I had to wear a name-tag at all times that included the phrase “Doctor of Pharmacy Candidate” to indicate that I hadn’t graduated from pharmacy school yet. Everyone was really strict about that white coat. And I had been through years of pharmacy school and assumed I had earned the right to wear it!
My point is that pharmacy students spend years learning in a professional program and are still under a lot of scrutiny with regards to what they wear on their clinical rotations. That is why I’m confused as to why Rite Aid is so casual with what has always been the uniform of choice for healthcare professionals around the world- the white coat. It may not seem like much to some, but to me it means a lot!
If you are a pharmacist at any of these Rite Aid stores, I’d be careful. I’d tell those ambassadors they are not healthcare providers and that they can’t give any medical advice. Rite Aid may think they have a brilliant idea here. But from what I can see, this is misleading and potentially harmful for patients and customers. And I can’t help but wonder why that isn’t enough for some state BOPs to step in and question Rite Aid. What do you think?
The Redheaded Pharmacist