Solidify Infrastructure Before Expansion

Posted on November 7, 2011

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As many retail enterprises are aware, whether their eyes are on IPOs or simply survival, growth too fast can be the kiss of death.

Hospitals and healthcare systems poised to do battle in suburbia and elsewhere via the outpatient clinic model, likewise, have much more to think about than simply location, location, location. Retailization themes rise again for healthcare:  ’tis very important to have your systems and management rock solid before growing too quickly, too loosely.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week on a rise of infections acquired at outpatient clinics. This could be happening because more people are using clinics now than ever, and will continue to as federal regulation and other trends drive many ‘non-essential’ services off the hospital campus, reserving those beds only for the sickest patients. For the more mobile, and less infirm, we will likely find most of our care in clinics in the near future. The message I received from the article is not that care is growing at clinics; this we know. The message to hospitals and systems:  ensure your management and quality systems are in place before putting your name on a clinic because patients want to trust they will receive the same level of care at a satellite location than at your hospital mother ship.

Replication is a core concept of retail to be galvanized in healthcare. To the general public, clinics are clinics and outside of specialist physicians (many of which still reside in hospitals), brand (and insurance coverage) will be the one thing drawing patients. A retailer with a strong brand draws customers; however, if the consistency and quality are not matched (think:  fast food), customers will go somewhere it is reliable.

The WSJ notes that “unlike hospitals, however, the clinics are not tightly regulated or inspected and may not have formal infection-control programs.” True or not, it will be crucial to communicate your hospital’s quality and safety controls to your target patient populations. This is done in many ways, including through design. Potential patients want to go somewhere for care that is easier to access, less expensive, and receive similar quality to a hospital.  But potential patients also want to know they will not acquire hepatitis C because the clinic care providers are not as rigorously trained in infection control procedures. And no amount of convenience or cost benefit will outweigh a personal safety issue.

Sterile techniques and infection control are not new, so getting it right, repeatedly, becomes an execution of quality initiative—something hospitals should excel at. Infection control means unreimbursed care and lawsuits to many hospitals, and venturing into new retail territory without airtight infection control procedures is not a risk I would want to take.

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