Customer picks up prescription at a pharmacy
Customer picks up prescription at a pharmacy - 
Listen To The Story


Tess Vigeland: Competition among big drug store chains has gotten so fierce that no market is off limits. Beach chairs and boxes of macaroni and cheese now vye with eye exams and blood-pressure machines. Now one regional pharmacy chain is looking to add services for a group that typically doesn't get much marketing attention: the terminally ill. Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE: By the time patients need hospice care, the usual array of tablets and pills may be difficult for them to swallow. That's when special solutions and medications come into play. The problem is, they often aren't available at retail drug stores. But you can now find them at 15 Jewel-Osco pharmacies in the Chicago area.

Matt Cross is the company's regional manager.

MATT Cross: A lot of these hospices are challenged by finding the medications they need. And time is of the essence. We keep them in stock. That allows them to take better care of their patient.

LYNN McPherson: I could tell you 25 medications. If you could just keep these 25 in stock all the time, I would be delirious with joy.

Lynn McPherson is an expert on end-of-life care at the University of Maryland's School of Pharmacy. She says Jewel-Osco is filling a real need among those who care for the terminally ill.

McPherson: You can continue to give them their pain medication, drugs for nausea, anxiety, delirium, right up to the end. And if we don't have those, we're up the creek.

If the program is a success, Jewel-Osco says it will consider expanding it. Adam Fein is the president of Pembroke Consulting. He says retail pharmacies need to find a competitive edge if they want to survive against giants like Walmart.

ADAM Fein: The smaller regionally focused chains are looking for ways to distinguish their business from the business of the very large companies.

Fein says pharmacies are looking to play a greater role in their patients' lives. In this case, right up to the end.

I'm Joel Rose for Marketplace.