Rite Aid’s Wellness Ambassadors

     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

    

18 Comments to “Rite Aid’s Wellness Ambassadors”

  1. By Pharmaciststeve, March 20, 2012 @ 1:02 am

    The answer is very easy about the BOP and these “ambassadors” … they are not licensed as a RPH or tech.. so the BOP has no authority over them… The same reason.. most BOP’s did nothing about those store front Canadian Pharmacies… they didn’t have a pharmacy license or Pharmacist license… This should be referring this to the AG’s office.. but the AG’s office is probably too busy … fighting the war on drugs and other high profile things. Since the majority of the BOP’s have chain exec sitting on them… no matter if it is not their chain doing something this stupid.. they are not going to vote against it.. it is like a diplomatic immunity between chain execs and the BOP’s.
    Go to the BOP’s website… look up how many complaint forms there are on the their websites… most likely ONE – consumer complaint form. If you are a health care professional ( Pharmacists/tech).. there appears to be no formal mechanism to complain about the permit holder. Does the permit holder just expected to have a “free pass” from anything they do?

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  2. By pharmacy chick, March 20, 2012 @ 1:46 pm

    remember, your clerk at the 7-11 is free to offer any advice you ask him about the drugs HE sells, but no tech can even tell you if diphenhydramine is the same as benadryl without getting his/her license revoked.

    um..ok?

    no.

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  3. By Priscilla, March 30, 2012 @ 3:55 pm

    Maybe there is a job for an over fifty unemployed pharmacist…. Thanks Red Head maybe I can get some health insurance! @pharmacy chick, they will take your license and let her your tech keep his/hers!

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  4. By Anonimo, April 3, 2012 @ 10:23 pm

    Just to be cleared on the subject, let me just say that they have it all wrong, first of all, let me just say I don’t work for them, second, I know for a fact that they know and been trained on policy and that no one exept the pharmacist is allowed to recommend anything. The role of a Wellness Ambassador is to provide excellent costumer service where others are lacking big time, they are there to lead the costumer to where they need to go, provide costumer service above all, and if they have a question regarding anything with there healthcare or medications they are there to introduce the pharmacist to the costumer and promote the programs and offers that the local pharmacy have to offer. Even tho they are not professional health care providers, they are provided with enough and ongoing training so that this role would be a success and avoid misleading and misunderstandings…. Hopes this clears out the smoke and blurr and the bad image that competitors are trying to put on. Well it’s just a Matt of time till es notice and do like monkey….

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  5. By Cat, April 15, 2012 @ 7:46 am

    Wow. Way to be harsh. You are a pharmacist…you shouldn’t feel so threatened by this position. It’s going to be making YOU look good.

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  6. By Mike, July 21, 2012 @ 4:52 pm

    I have a friend who was recently hired for that specific position.
    She is an unemployed pharmacy technician. The store made no requests or inferences for her to give technical advice. She is simply to help them locate things in the store and direct them to the pharmacist as soon as it becomes evident the person is needing help or looking for medical advice.

    It serves both the customer and the store.

    You need something better to do, most critics do.

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  7. By Jean, August 25, 2012 @ 8:53 pm

    I am one of Rite Aid’s ambassador. We are very well trained not to advice or recommend in any way.

    Wellness Ambasssdors are the bridge between front end customers and the pharmacy. We help build relationships between customers and the pharmacy. We are hired to help navigate customers needs in the store. Ever since Wellness ambassadors were hired at my store, pharmacy and front end sales increased. Also, customers experience were all positive. Last time I visited Walgreens and CVS, no one can even give me their time to welcome me or greet me. No one was around to ask me if I needed any help.

    Whatever @Mike said was true.

    My advice to you, don’t write something you know nothing about.

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  8. By SeRPh, August 26, 2012 @ 1:34 am

    Helping people locate things? Fine, I have no problem with that. If I had adequate resources and manpower, that would be something I would be doing myself in a chain pharmacy. Is it true, though, that Rite Aide is putting you out there with lab coats on? That gives the appearance that you are health care professionals. That, I have a problem with. Not to mention that I had to work for 7 years to earn the doctorate to wear mine, as have most other pharmacists.

    And who supervises you? Do you answer any questions at all, outside of where something is located or how much it costs? Do you give any advice on what products to take? Who has legal authority over you? If you do recommend a supplement or herbal or whatever that interacts ( yes, ‘natural’ products have interactions too! ) with a medication the patient is currently taking, and a patient is harmed, who is liable? If you do make recommendations, how do you do this? Does management ‘encourage’ you to make certain recommendations that have a higher gross for the store? How do you know propose to know which products are ‘safe’ and ‘effective’ for patients?

    I read about ‘Wellness Ambassadors’ a while ago – seems I remember they give you an iPad with an app to do this?

    Pharmacy isn’t something you can do with an iPad app and a few hours of training. We work with poisons that are carefully calibrated and rigidly administered to derive a therapeutic benefit in specific patients. We are expected to know them all, side effects, indications, drug interactions, can you take it while pregnant?

    Ours is one of the few jobs in existence that tolerates absolutely no mistakes. None. We are expected to perfectly produce, without error, each and every single prescription we receive, every time, without fail. We are one of the few professions where a patient can approach us for advice and information for as long as they want – at no charge. We often work more than twelve hours a day, with no lunch, barely a bathroom break. We stand all day. Many pharmacists I know have blown out their knees before they are sixty.

    Our profession is under assault from all sides in recent years, from PBMs who marginalize our professions, big box chain pharmacies that usurp our authority and self confidence, impotent professional groups ( looking at you APhA ), and a serious backslide in public opinion from ‘most trusted profession’ to ‘fifteen minute refill guarantee’.

    We were trained that the job we do is important, that we play a critical role in the healthcare team. All of us know our worth, and many patients we see do as well. It is troubling, then, to see a major chain place an unregistered, questionably trained employee unsupervised by anyone with health care experience in front of the pharmacy in a lab coat ( which is implies they are a health care professional, there is no other reason for the lab coat ) in the position to give patients advice.

    It’s a barrier between the pharmacist and the patient – just like volume, under-staffing, and metrics have further displaced us from the face-to-face interactions with patients that we built our profession on, so to does the ‘Wellness Ambassador’. Just one more thing between us, that we have no control or say over. A thing that could potentially be giving faulty and dangerous advice to patients unknown to us.

    That is the problem I have with ‘Wellness Ambassadors’. If you are doing anything more than telling people where to find things, you are doing them, and pharmacy, a disservice.

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  9. By Imperial Frog, August 28, 2012 @ 6:19 pm

    The attachment the importance of the white coat in my profession is a joke. We want to change so much of how the public views pharmacists but we insist that the coat is necessary for people to think we know what we are talking about. How about working on changing the public’s view instead of conforming to it. The coat doesn’t make the pharmacist, the person does.

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  10. By Rena, October 12, 2012 @ 9:20 pm

    I have been a pharmacy tech for 17 yrs with Rite Aid. I do like the idea of having a Wellness Ambassador in stores as this takes the pressure off of the techs having to direct customers
    to products in the aisles. While I love helping people find things, its takes time away from
    typing prescriptions in the pharmacy and assisting the pharmacy customers. The
    Ambassador is working out well in our store. The Ambassador does know to bring any
    customer to the pharmacist with any questions regarding medical advice etc.

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  11. By ben, October 14, 2012 @ 12:26 am

    Wellness ambassadors are carefully trained to NEVER ADVICE OR RECOMMEND any products period. Their job is to engage with customers to increase the customer service experience, to help increase the script count and to reach out to non-rite aid customers. When a patient has aquestion or wants a recommendation, they are directed to the pharmacist. LET ME SAY IT AGAIN: WELLNESS AMBASSADORS ARE CAREFULLY TRAINED TO NOT RECOMMEND ANYTHING TO ANY CUSTOMER AT ALL.

    Wellness ambassadors are under the supervision of the pharmacy district manager and the pharmacy manager.

    AND The ipad’s app is for symptom checker.
    FYI rite aid’s pharmacists are the only ones who can wear white coats now.
    If you really want to know the real truth behind ‘wellness ambassadors’ why don’t you go there yourself as a customer and see it for yourself?

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  12. By Jessica, June 12, 2013 @ 1:09 am

    I am currently working in a store with two wellness ambassadors (am currently one myself actually) and we do not wear white coats, we have light blue coats with navy trim that says “Wellness Ambassador” on it. We cannot, under no circumstances, recommend a product, but we can direct them to where it is in the store, we can also give general information about drugs we know about, like what the difference is between a RA product and the name brand- if someone asks for a recommendation, we introduce them to the pharmacist.
    We also are out in the community reaching out to other companies. We set up annual flu clinics for those who are interested and we are currently doing free BP clinics as well. We do more than just walk around the store and greet people. We have an iPad to help with vitamins and supplements, we can also print coupons for customers as well as e-mail information they are seeking about certain ailments or vitamins/minerals.
    We are the “bridge” between the front end and the pharmacy.

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  13. By S. Woolman, June 13, 2013 @ 10:42 pm

    I would like to point out the fact that pharmacists across the country give off the cuff medical advice to consumers every day of the week. I know this, coming from a family full of pharmacists. Remember, your local pharmacist is not, and I repeat is not a medical doctor of any kind. People do however seem to trust the pharmacist over the fear of visiting their local physician, and, or a lack of medical coverage, or a co-pay they cannot afford. I feel the pharmacist above may be suffering from a sort of identity crisis, and should seek medical help as soon as possible.Who knows, maybe the wellness ambassador may really have the right answer. My wife is a 29 year retired nurse. She is excited about being a Rite Aid wellness ambassador. Please let me know what pharmacy this pharmacist is currently employed by, so I won”t get scared to pick up my prescription. Come to think of it, maybe this pharmacist should become a physician, if she can get acceptance to med school, then she could wear a white coat with real meaning.

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  14. By S. Woolman, June 13, 2013 @ 10:44 pm

    Chic Chic Chic Chic I would like to point out the fact that pharmacists across the country give off the cuff medical advice to consumers every day of the week. I know this, coming from a family full of pharmacists. Remember, your local pharmacist is not, and I repeat is not a medical doctor of any kind. People do however seem to trust the pharmacist over the fear of visiting their local physician, and, or a lack of medical coverage, or a co-pay they cannot afford. I feel the pharmacist above may be suffering from a sort of identity crisis, and should seek medical help as soon as possible.Who knows, maybe the wellness ambassador may really have the right answer. My wife is a 29 year retired nurse. She is excited about being a Rite Aid wellness ambassador. Please let me know what pharmacy this pharmacist is currently employed by, so I won”t get scared to pick up my prescription. Come to think of it, maybe this pharmacist should become a physician, if she can get acceptance to med school, then she could wear a white coat with real meaning.

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  15. By kp, July 18, 2013 @ 8:22 pm

    Let me say this. I do work for this money hungry company. I have been a victim,of harrasment, theft, and just taken advantage. The wellness ambassador will not be around for long i can assure you.

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  16. By Pam, October 7, 2013 @ 5:46 pm

    Hilarious that some of you are offended about the white coat. If I’m not mistaken the wellness ambassadors are wearing blue coats? Hope Halloween don’t get you p””’d off!! Customer service is always a good idea. Also being a decent person that cares about others real health instead of selling drugs to make $$ is also. And not what you are wearing and how hard you worked to wear it so you can slowly torture people with pharmaceutical prescriptions.

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  17. By john, rph, July 25, 2014 @ 12:30 pm

    I worked for CVS for 10 years, now currently a pharmacist for Rite Aid for the past 11 months, so this Wellness Embassador thing is new to me.

    However, based on the one we have, I honestly have no idea what the purpose of having her is. She strolls in the pharmacy, punches in ignoring the 6 customers at the register. Next she goes to the most remote computer away from customers, oblivious to the phone ringing and every other employee tied up with assisting customers. Then we have hours of aimlessly walking the store, socializing with the front end, taking smoke breaks every 30 minutes.

    Inevitably we page her for something during the day, and she complains about it and handles the task as quick as possible and runs away.

    She then fetches the iPad and shoots the breeze for the next several hours, occasionally showing someone where a vitamin is and then chats for 30 minutes about this weekends pot luck dinner at the local church.

    I can see why people love the position, it’s an excuse to do nothing and avoid menial tasks.

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  18. By Sharon, July 27, 2014 @ 7:58 pm

    What it comes down to is that you are upset about the white coat. I don’t know why, it doesn’t mean that you are not ignorant. Make sure you know what you are talking about before you run your mouth. Wellness Embassadors wear a blue coat, the same as the techs.

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