September 8, 2021

Introducing ARTARx, ARTA’s New Plan-Owned Pharmacy

Since 1995, when ARTA first began offering its Retiree Benefits Plan, our understanding of how we manage our health has changed and expanded. The plan has kept pace with these evolutions in understanding: every new addition to the plan has been a response to the changing needs of ARTA members and has focused on better serving the health needs of retirees. Now, ARTA is taking another step forward in member well-being. Later this year, ARTA will be opening its own member-focused pharmacy, called ARTARx.

“We’re so excited to be able to announce our pharmacy initiative,” says Daniel Mulloy, CEO of ARTA. “ARTARx is the first pharmacy of its kind in Canada. It’s a plan-sponsored pharmacy that focuses on the prescription needs of our members, and it places their wellbeing as its top priority.”

The business model for ARTARx has been specifically developed to meet the standards and health needs of ARTA members. What’s more, members won’t have to worry about the pharmacy increasing their premiums. Every dollar made by ARTARx gets funnelled back into the ARTA Retiree Benefits Plan, and the pharmacy will help keep premiums affordable for years to come.

To help build and run the pharmacy, ARTA has hired a Director of Pharmacy Services, Yatin Patel. Under his guidance, the pharmacy has been taking shape over the last several months, and it will be open for all members to visit before the end of the year, whether in person or through its online, virtual component.

An online component? Yes, you read that right. ARTARx can be accessed by members who reside anywhere in Alberta, and that’s not the only improvement that members can look forward to. At every stage of development, ARTA has found ways to expand the traditional pharmacy experience to better meet the needs of its members.

Improving the Pharmacy Experience

Many people think of a pharmacy simply as somewhere they can pick up prescriptions. It’s a grab-and-go business model, built to move people through the pharmacy as quickly as possible. While members can, of course, use ARTARx to pick up their prescriptions, it goes above and beyond the standard model, and members can expect a few exciting innovations on top of this basic level of service.

First, ARTARx will focus on the holistic health of members, not just on filling prescriptions. “There are more and more opportunities these days for pharmacists to counsel patients on their health needs,” says Yatin. “We tend to see people more often than their doctors do, so we can get a better idea of how medications align with an individual’s health goals. Is the patient experiencing side-effects? Are there problems remembering to take the medication regularly? We can sit down with members, make recommendations, and provide information to help them better manage their own health.”

Not all of this advice is medication-based. ARTARx pharmacists can offer advice for health conditions that might be better served by increasing physical fitness or by kicking a bad habit; in that way, a member could potentially reduce the number of medications they are taking.

ARTARx pharmacists are also available for travel consultations, to help ARTA’s jet-setting members understand what travel vaccinations and medications to consider for their next big trip. If they’re visiting in person, they can schedule any necessary vaccinations at the same time. These consultations, whether for health or travel, aren’t just for the benefit of individual members. “In talking to members, we’ll not only be able to meet their health needs, but we can get a better picture of what plan improvements ARTA’s whole membership wants and needs,” says Yatin. “Rather than relying on surveys and direct suggestions, we can identify trends in membership needs through each conversation we have.”

Next comes improvements in communication and distribution. While the physical ARTARx space is located at ARTA’s main office in Edmonton, ARTA’s members live all over. Luckily, we live in a world where distance is no obstacle. “For all of its complexities, the pandemic has really pushed the envelope for delivery services and virtual consultations,” says Yatin. “We have the opportunity to use this technology, along with our members’ increased familiarity with technology, to bring our pharmacy services to any location.”

If ARTA members aren’t able to meet for in-person consultations, they can meet virtually and receive the same quality of care from the same pharmacists. In addition to these online consults, members can register their prescriptions online and have their medications mailed out to them, no matter where they live in Alberta.

Meeting the Needs of ARTA Members

A recent ARTA survey identified three things that members value most when it comes to the ARTA Retiree Benefits Plan: sustainability, affordability, and choice. ARTARx is a response to all three of these values.

“With all aspects of health care, things are getting more expensive over time, and that’s also true of health plans,” says Daniel. “There are a limited number of ways to keep a plan like ours robust without raising premiums. ARTARx is one way forward in that regard.”

As a not-for-profit association, ARTARx has no investors or shareholders looking to get rich at the expense of their members. Instead, ARTARx can offer prescriptions and services to customers at the lowest price possible, and every dollar made through the pharmacy goes directly back into the Retiree Benefits Plan, allowing the plan to remain affordable for all. Rather than being an expense that drains ARTA’s resources, the pharmacy will bolster ARTA as an organization and build a foundation that continues to support the organization as it grows.

“We’re not looking to push prescriptions or try to sell you products you don’t need,” says Daniel. “Our focus is on doing the right thing for ARTA members and helping them achieve better health outcomes through our quality of service.”

When it comes to matters of choice, ARTARx will meet members’ expectations as well. Participation in the pharmacy is an opt-in process, and those members who are happy with their current pharmacy experience will be under no obligation to use ARTARx. ARTA will continue to offer great, affordable health plans, independent of the pharmacy.

“If you already have a great relationship with a personal pharmacist or want to support a local business, we encourage you to keep doing what works for you,” says Daniel. “But the truth is, many ARTA members don’t have a relationship with a pharmacist, and they aren’t getting what they need out of their current pharmacy. That’s who we’re serving through our plan-sponsored pharmacy. ARTARx is, by far, the biggest and best deal that members can get when it comes to their pharmacy needs. It will offer more services at a lower rate and offer more choices as well.”

As with any new addition to the ARTA Retiree Benefits Plan, the pharmacy will grow in response to member participation and feedback, and nothing will be rushed out the door. “We took our time with this venture, we did our analysis, and we worked with the best professionals in the business,” says Daniel. “The creation of the pharmacy is not something we take lightly. We’re creating something new, something no plan sponsor has done before, but we’re approaching each step with our members’ needs in mind. I know members have choices when it comes to benefits, and I appreciate the trust and loyalty they have shown us. Because of that close relationship with members, we’ve been able to build something wonderful that will serve members now and well into the future.”

To learn more about ARTARx, watch for follow-up pieces in October and November’s ARTAfacts e-newsletters, as well as in the winter 2021 issue of the news&views magazine.