Retail Healthcare Open for Business

Posted on July 22, 2014


Retail healthcare has been a trending topic of discussion, growing in prominence over the past four plus years.  At first, it was a novelty:  can healthcare learn from retail?  Should they?

Then there were baby steps, like mimicking, for healthcare adopting retail:  creating clinics (bringing care to the customer), increasing social media presence (branding), and improving the visitor experience (customer service).

What the healthcare industry is admittedly struggling with now is a common problem when one industry borrows (or innovates) from another: what parts to keep and what parts to toss (or improve)?

Instead of actively saying “Well, we don’t want to do that“, it appears safer to pick out the good parts to copy, and hope to not inadvertently adopt a problem in the process.

An example of creating an inadvertent problem in the process of copying is the retail clinic model.  Sure, retail clinics are accessible and feed the mother hospital’s admissions.  However, now a hospital owns lots of real estate and buildings all over the place (or is managing a lot of leases).  Each building has its own management headaches:  maintenance and utilities, tracking costs, supply chain logistics, duplicating internal operations and overcoming inefficiencies.  A healthcare system will soon need to consider a corporate real estate strategist / manager to add to its payroll, in addition to manpower to keep the clinics running smoothly.

Walmart and McDonald’s are some of the largest land owners in the U.S.; they are, by default, in the real estate management business.  Do hospitals want to be in the real estate management business by adopting a retail model?  There may be no choice.

Nevertheless, there are simple retail decisions hospitals can make which will make a big difference to the bottom line.  While we are talking about clinics, let’s look at hours of operation.  Hospitals must ask where the role of their clinic stops and the Emergency Department begins.

In April, I had an accident that happened in the early morning, 5:30am, that required medical attention.  The two Urgent Cares within a ten-mile drive were both closed, so I ended up at the ED, which was appropriate in the end given the care I required.  I could not fault the clinics for not being open at that hour—or could I?

Then, my daughter acquired an ear infection in the afternoon on the 4th of July, which was a Friday.  I went to the first Urgent Care and it was closed.  Why?  Independence Day is a holiday, yes, but a busy social holiday—one with fireworks, barbeques, and expectations of emergencies.  I read recently it is the busiest day of the year for most hospital EDs.

Healthcare needs do not conveniently fall during 9am and 5pm, but in this case they did, and the Urgent Care was still not open.  When I arrived, another gentleman was already peering through the door into the dark lobby and we both ended up at the competing clinic two miles away.

By acting like a government institution, the Urgent Care was missing major revenue.

As a secondary point, the competing clinic was smart:  they chose to be open on a holiday.  To thrive, healthcare must be more strategic and zig when the competition zags.  If the local urgent care is a 9am-5pm shop and 11am-4pm on the weekends, consider running yours 7am-7pm, or maybe extended hours on the weekend.  Have the flexibility to adjust to seasonality like back-to-school physicals, or deer season, or holidays, or the shift workers at the local large factory, or the summer tourist onslaught, or whatever else drives your local economy.

These are business decisions made with people in mind first, and are the times when patients-in-need remember—and what will make them come back the next time.  Stopping a raging ear infection within minutes wins customers.  Not being open is a reason to forget.  P.S. – my daughter said the lollipops were a nice touch, too.