Starting next month, Safeway  pharmacists will ask those filling a prescription, “Do you smoke?” With 11 million tobacco users across its operating area, it hopes to spark countless conversations.
The information is pertinent since smoking can interfere with the way the liver processes medication. But the question signifies much more. According to one observer, it marks the first time a smoking intervention will be consistently applied across a network of pharmacies .
As part of the latest health  initiative pioneered by Safeway, smokers will be encouraged to quit, offered information on medication, and referred to a smoker’s hotline. The program stands to minimize the toll tobacco use has on health, but given its timing, it also makes good business sense.
Under the Affordable Care Act many insurance plans are required to cover preventive services like smoking cessation interventions at no cost to those who want to quit.
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And just as Safeway offers employees incentives for healthy behaviors, insurers offer incentives to health care providers for improved patient outcomes.
Walgreens is also focused on improving patient outcomes. Not by posing a question, but by removing a physical barrier.
Pharmacists in some stores are stationed at desks out on the floor, making them more approachable to shoppers. The strategy is designed to help pharmacists mix with the public, and by doing so, improve health outcomes through medication therapy management — a group of services focused on assessing a medication routine and enhancing adherence through education. MTM is helping put a dent in the 1.5 million adverse health events resulting from medication-related issue each year.
Read more: Safeway Expands Pharmacy With Smoking-Cessation Services 
Given the frequency with which Americans visit the grocery store, supermarkets are on the front lines of improving their health habits — and not just with food, noted Sheri Putnam, executive director of Doylestown Hospital, which jumped at the chance to occupy space in a nearby ShopRite so that it could reach area residents and help modify behaviors, before they got sick.
“The average person, if they’re lucky, comes to the hospital once every 10 years, but they’re in the supermarket a couple times a week so we thought it would be a really non-threatening environment where we could create an approachable atmosphere,” Putnam said.
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