Retail Health, Retail Medicine and the New Healthcare Experience

People expect convenience, quality and transparency when choosing how to spend time and money – and increasingly they seek the same from healthcare providers. Retail health is emerging as a means of delivering quality, convenient care to millions of consumers, as well as a model for healthcare systems to consider when providing services to new and existing patient populations.

We are entering an era of retail health and retail medicine, meaning healthcare providers are gleaning insights from analyzing how retailers craft in-store and online experiences to engage shoppers with their brands. According to a National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) guide, strong consumer response to retail clinics has even Federally Qualified Health Centers evaluating retail health from a care and economic perspective. The retail model, suggests the NACHC, enables community health centers to offer patients such benefits as customer awareness, friendliness and perceptions of quality.

For healthcare providers, retail health opens up other opportunities: a means to make encouraging healthy behavior easier and approachable; and also the access (read: location, location, location) key to realizing long-term growth strategies. As with most successful retailers, the experience that healthcare providers create for patients – from online information to the design of in-person engagement – can have significant positive impact on the ability to attract and cultivate client relationships.


What can healthcare providers learn from retail?

A store was once the primary location for people to buy or sell goods and services. Today, it is only one stage in the shopping spectrum. Faced with competition from online shopping outlets, catalogues, television shopping networks and more, retail outlets have adapted to survive. Today, the store plays a different role for brands: it creates the customer experience. Retailers know that localization, community, education, hospitality, convenience and in-store technology are all critical components of connecting with the people they hope to attract, and that the storefront location should be leveraged to spur sales.

Healthcare can learn valuable lessons from retail’s example. Engaging people means connecting with them where they live; and that’s a place away from the hospital or outside of the acute care setting.


What do patients want?

To maintain better health, people want easy access to basic healthcare services, but increasingly they also want to maintain their health while they are still well, not only when responding to a health emergency. To incorporate wellness into their daily lives, consumers need access to on-demand information, extended hours, convenient locations, walk-in appointments, affordable services, and, more than ever, transparent pricing.

Since the first retail health clinic opened in 2000, 44 percent of patient visits have taken place when physician offices typically are closed. Consumers have been clear in conveying that they’re looking for convenience and flexibility, and healthcare providers can offer these by designing spaces that are both locally relevant and tailored to specific needs. These types of choice in healthcare delivery are projected to drive 25-30 percent growth annually in retail clinics.


New patient expectations also are changing the landscape of healthcare delivery dramatically. As of 2010, three organizations – CVS, Walgreens and Target – operated 73 percent of retail clinics in the U.S. While hospital chains or physician groups (e.g., the Mayo Clinic) accounted for more than half of the organizations operating such clinics, these healthcare organizations operated just 11 percent of the total number of clinics (Source: RAND).


Why now?

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), health exchanges have created more than 22 million health shoppers who now have the ability to compare costs and services across multiple different channels. This includes the previously uninsured population and the previously insured now receiving benefits through exchanges.

Additionally, the Association of American Medical Colleges reports a growing deficit in primary care doctors, predicting the shortfall to reach 45,000 doctors by 2020. This shortage will make getting to a primary doctor even harder for patients seeking treatment. Retail health clinics can help close this gap by providing lower-cost treatments for low-acuity conditions.


What impact does design have?

Good design sets the stage for the patient experience. It can enable healthcare providers to attract and retain patients, while positively influencing their behavior. Like an Apple store, rather than focusing on transactions, healthcare design can foster conversation, learning and community. Conventional expectations of healthcare space will shift as people seek interaction and the ability to help themselves rather than wait passively to be diagnosed. Design can spark this kind of patient-to-practice engagement.

The best retail health environments are designed to be inviting, varied and multi-use, bringing healthcare professionals and patients together to improve healthcare delivery while reducing costs. Integrating physical and virtual environments is key, while remaining resolutely focused on providing a customer-centric experience.

For a closer look at “The Doctor’s Office of the Future,” read Sarah Bader’s Fast Company blog post.