The Future of Healthcare is Retail

March 19, 2020 Maria Perrin

If you received the same consumer experience at Amazon as you do at some healthcare providers, the home page would take three minutes to load, would look like it was designed in 1995, you wouldn’t know how much anything cost and your package would take two weeks to arrive.

(Amazon’s first homepage, 1995!)

There’s no question that Amazon has changed our expectations for retail transactions forever. It’s easy to find what you want, you see prices right away, and receive your items in a few hours to a couple of days.

Consumers begin to ask: “why isn’t everything this easy?” As they do, other industries have had to upgrade their offerings to provide similar levels of service. Consequently, we now have astonishing  levels of convenience from companies such as Uber, Netflix, Seamless and many other consumer-centric companies.

It was only a matter of time before the healthcare industry began to be held to the same standards.

As Paul Schrimpf, co-lead of Prophet’s healthcare practice says: “Providers are struggling to adapt to the rising culture of ‘consumerism,’ which has heightened people’s expectations. The power has shifted to the consumer in nearly every industry, and now it’s healthcare’s turn.”

Today, most people won’t put up with a two-week delay for a healthcare appointment, or a 40-minute wait in a shoddy office, or a doctor who seems to be rushing them out of the door or a bill that arrives weeks later with charges that were never mentioned. This is especially true for millennials, who barely remember a time before today’s level of service and convenience existed.

Retail clinics

Often located inside big box stores, retail clinics usually don’t require an appointment, and treat low-acuity issues such as coughs, cold, bronchitis, stomach upsets and minor infections.

The first retail clinic opened to little fanfare in Minnesota in 2001. That company, MinuteClinic, was acquired by CVS in 2006 and today they have over 1,100 clinics in CVS and Target stores.

CVS’ MinuteClinic, along with other major players such as Walgreens (Healthcare Clinic), Walmart (Care Clinic), Rite Aid (RediClinic) and Kroger (The Little Clinic) are transforming the way people consume healthcare. In fact, some of these organizations are taking the retail healthcare model to a new level. CVS’ HealthHUBS provide an expanded range of health and wellness services, including screening and monitoring, and chronic condition care; while Walmart Health centers provide dental care, behavioral health and a wide array of medical care services

Urgent care clinics

Urgent care clinics offer many of the same advantages as retail clinics, but treat a wider range of issues, such as fractures, sprains, and wounds. They also offer services like bloodwork, stitches, and X-rays, and are more likely to be a standalone site, rather than located in a store.

There are around 10,000 retail and urgent care clinics in the U.S.—and growing. Both offer several advantages for convenience-hungry consumers.

Transparent pricing and lower fees

Retail clinics provide prices upfront for the uninsured. Average fees are 30-40% lower than a visit to a physician’s office, and at least 80% lower than the ER. They will tell an insured patient what their copay will be, but as a Physician Assistant in an urgent care clinic told me, it’s often difficult to provide completely accurate pricing upfront given the complexities of many health plans’ billing structures.

Transparent pricing is important; roughly 40% of people said that fear of unexpected bills made them avoid routine checkups, physicals and screenings, and even skip care when they or a family member were injured.

Convenient locations and hours

A major factor in the rapid growth of these clinics is proximity and extended hours. Busy parents may not be able to take themselves or a child to a doctor’s office if they close at 5PM. Retail clinics are typically open until at least 8PM.

Low wait times without the need for an appointment

If you are sick today, you have little use for an appointment a week or two from now.

At retail clinics, same-day appointments are available by phone or convenient online portal, and the vast majority accept walk-ins. Wait times are usually 10 minutes or less, even for walk-ins. In a 2017 survey, the average wait in a doctor’s office was 20 minutes. Emergency room waits are significantly longer.

The future

There’s no doubt that retail and urgent care clinics are here to stay, and they are taking patients from private practices and hospitals, especially the easier to treat low-acuity cases. In fact, CVS executives contend that 80% of primary care can be delivered through their HealthHUBS. This may be good for a healthcare system plagued with provider shortages and rising costs. But those providers who want to win these patients back will need to adopt some of the convenient practices offered by these clinics, such as same day appointments, online scheduling, transparent pricing and more.

The good news? Health plans, providers and health retailers are aligned in their goals and needs. Everybody is looking to meet the triple aim of enhancing the patient/consumer experience, improving health outcomes and reducing the cost of healthcare. And as our healthcare system moves more towards shared risk models, it is likely that initiatives around consumer experience will come more into focus, as consumer engagement and action becomes increasingly important in order to achieve healthcare cost and outcomes goals.

About the Author

Maria Perrin

Maria Perrin is Chief Growth Officer for HMS, where she is responsible for the company’s corporate strategy, marketing, government relations, business development, and oversight of the company’s more than 500 contracts with government and commercial healthcare organizations. She has transformed HMS’ brand and furthered its industry impact through numerous thought leadership and innovation initiatives. Maria rejoined HMS in 2019, after co-founding a successful consulting practice that launched dozens of health tech startups and tech companies in emerging sectors. During her first tenure at HMS, as Chief Marketing Officer and EVP over government and commercial markets from 2008 – 2013, HMS revenue grew fivefold and the company successfully entered the federal market, doubled the volume of state contracts, and expanded services to commercial payers. Prior to HMS, Maria was Senior Vice President, Sales, Marketing, and Business Development for Performant Financial Corp. where she led Performant’s entry into the healthcare market and other sectors. Maria has held financial and operational leadership roles for BestFoods, Nissan and other Fortune 100 companies. She has a BA in Economics from UCLA and an MBA from the University of Miami.

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