Two Prereqs to Healthcare Retailization

Posted on June 19, 2010


For a few years now, experts have said one of the impending healthcare trends is retailization. Retailization in healthcare is understood as providing healthcare in a way similar to the business model for retail:  inexpensive, fast, and accessible. 

One of the theories supporting this idea is that if healthcare outlets are ubiquitous like ATMs, people are more likely to accept them, and thus visit them more often. This would go a long way toward instilling a proactive, prevention-based healthcare model rather than the reactive, treatment-based healthcare model our culture perpetuates. Put another way, currently Americans would rather wait until they get sick and seek treatment than visit the doctor regularly to prevent illness and avoid treatment. Among other goals, retailization aims to combat this behavior.

Last month I attended the National Rural Health Association’s Annual Conference.  A main concern of delivering care to rural communities is access to quality care. Retailization is believed to be one way to do this:  with clinics and mobile monitoring stations in malls, airports, grocery stores, big box retail—even office buildings and civic buildings—people are more likely to access and use it.

I believe, however, providing the healthcare outlets does not make their adoption a fait accompli. For people to use healthcare options offered in a retail setting, two things must happen:

1)  Acceptance of innovation in healthcare delivery.  In many respects, the delivery of healthcare has not changed in a hundred years, and this is a problem. If people were accustomed to healthcare morphing over time like most other industries, they might quickly accept healthcare services in a different mode than either their doctor’s office or in a hospital. Even now it can be a tough sell to get outpatient procedures done in clinics than hospitals, which has mainly been driven by insurer networks making it more affordable (e.g. lower co-pays) at ASCs than hospitals.

Part of this struggle will be getting people to acknowledge healthcare will not be delivered in the ways of the past. Retailization and telemedicine (virtual check-ups) are two such innovations. Consumers now accept information delivered wirelessly; they accept that their phones have evolved into miniature computers, and that they purchase goods from virtual storefronts via the internet. Once people accept that healthcare too must innovate, they will more likely use a doctor in a non-traditional setting.

2) Belief in quality. Medicine is a somewhat traditional and serious field. People expect it to adhere to basic tenets. To purchase healthcare in a retail setting, potential patients must trust the product; they must feel it is equivalent to what they would get in a hospital, or a tremendous value. As with the rural community care issue, it is access to quality care that is the key, not merely care of any kind. Given the emphasis on reducing patient readmissions, the cost of medical care, and its consequences on our immediate and long-term lifestyle, no one can afford any other kind of care except quality care.

When healthcare providers are able to prove conveniently-located service is both quality, and delivered in a way people feel comfortable with, retailization in healthcare will take hold and access will expand exponentially across the U.S.