The retailization of health care


Online Groupons for health services? Doctors and hospitals sharing patient data and treatment goals with retail clinics, pharmacies and urgent care centers? Hospitals luring patients with inviting atriums and indoor waterfalls? It’s all part of a wave of “retailization” as the nation’s transforming health system emerges from behind the walls of hospitals, labs and doctors’ offices, and repositions itself as a more retail-oriented, patient-friendly network of care.

What’s driving the retailization trend? Plenty. The skyrocketing costs of traditional doctor- and hospital-centered care; the acute shortage of primary care physicians; the resulting lack of timely access to a family doctor for patients who need care now; and the obvious need for a coordinated, “continuum of care” treatment system are all contributing factors.

In addition, the health-reform law recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court will add millions more Americans to the ranks of the insured and spur the creation of new, more integrated care models, like accountable care organizations and medical homes. The effect will be to further drive health care out into the open and further expand the role played by community pharmacies, retail clinics and urgent care centers.

With health reform on track to bring 32 million more Americans into the healthcare system in 2014 — and with payers and patients looking for solutions to rein in costs — “incentives for collaboration are quickening the convergence of hospitals, insurers, drug makers, physicians and technology companies,” noted PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Health Research Institute in a response to the Supreme Court ruling. “Creation of new state and private insurance exchanges, greater pricing transparency, mobile technology and nontraditional competitors are turning the health business into a retail operation.”

The growing health cost burden also is playing an outsized role in the retailization trend. “The growth of high-deductible health plans underscores consumers’ cost sensitivity and puts increased pressure on insurers for the most cost-effective healthcare options, such as retail clinics, e-visits and mobile health, which provide convenient primary care services,” PwC reported.

The forces transforming health care and driving its migration to a retail model — cost containment, electronic patient record-keeping, and the need for a more integrated and evidence-based system of care — are “forcing organizations to reconsider their business models, reorient their operations around the patient and re-imagine the future of health care,” noted IBM in a report. And the “growing ‘retailization’ of health care,” IBM concluded, “will drive change in how health care is purchased, consumed and delivered.”

In this new arena, noted the report, “Empowering patients means developing multichannel approaches, convenient locations and varied settings to expand access to healthcare services. It means delivering ... [preventive] care vs. episodic and transactional care. It also means using innovative technologies and data to personalize treatments and engage citizens in their own health management and disease prevention.”

All of which lie right in the patient-centered sweet spot for pharmacists and retail clinicians.

One vocal champion for retailization is Walgreens, which is debuting a store format built around wellness and prevention. The chain actively promotes its revamped strategic vision as an accessible and cost-effective adjunct to overtaxed primary care practices.

That vision, noted Wasson, calls for Walgreens’ nearly 8,000 pharmacies to “serve as a centerpiece in ... improving access to care and lowering costs through an expanded scope of community-based health-and-wellness solutions.”

Also driving the retail health revolution is Rite Aid, which is making an impact with its Wellness Plus loyalty program and more than 400 in-store Wellness Ambassadors who provide information to customers and act as a bridge from the front end to the pharmacy.

Meanwhile, CVS Caremark —which is expected to emerge with a special healthcare format as part of its ongoing store clustering concept — as the owner of MinuteClinic is also the single biggest operator of retail clinics with more than 600 currently in operation.

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