Friday, August 24, 2007

Consumer-Driven Care - Convenience Care

I’ve always been reluctant to call the profession of medicine a business. And I shall not do so now. But when it comes to innovation, physicians may have a lot to learn from retailers, who understand the importance of convenience.

Take Walmart. It grew from a small Arkansas company to the world’s largest company in a scant 40 years, using the simple innovation strategy of a winning Civil War general, “Hit ‘em where they ain’t.” Walmart made it convenient for shoppers in non-urban markets to shop for goods at reasonable prices.

Or take Retail Clinics, started as MinuteClinics in Minneapolis three years ago, it is now 700 outlets strong and slated to grow to 10,000 by 2012. How? By stressing convenience - long open hours, no waiting, low price. Indeed, one could argue retail clinics have started a whole new form of health care: Convenience Care.

Retailing is America’s most productive sector. In the last dozen years, chains like WalMart, Starbucks, Staples, Home Deport and Home Stores have sparked America's remarkable productivity.

How have they done this? They have done it by paying attention to convenience. They’ve done studying behaviors and demands of customers from the "outside-in," i.e., through the eyes of time-short shoppers in hardworking two-career families. Retailers have introduced multiple sites for shopping (mail-order catalogues, Internet, television), increased convenience by minimizing travel time (by placing outlets in malls, neighborhood stores, office buildings, transportation terminals), placing goods in huge stores offering one-stop shopping, reorganized contents around lifestyles and trained employees to play defined roles concentrated on serving the customer. And they’ve done it by placing retail clinics in stores owned by CVS/Pharmacy, Target, Rite-Aid, H-E-B, Publix, Kroger, Duane Reade and Walgreens. Health marketers expect the clinics to be profitable because they fit into a healthcare niche by offering convenience, access, and affordability

A Medical Staff Briefing article, dated August 20, 2007, says of retail clinics:

Walk-in health clinics are becoming more and more prevalent each day, offering health care consumers quick, convenient access and low prices.

These so-called convenience care facilities don't necessarily mean competition for traditional healthcare models and may, in fact, boost referrals and thin out common patient choke-points at ERs and urgent-care facilities.

For basic care, they offer convenience, affordability, and accessibility that traditional healthcare providers generally do not.
Retail clinics are probably not a passing fad because of,

• an acute long-term shortage of primary care physicians

• consumers paying more for healthcare out of pocket

• high cost of health insurance

• insurers paying for retail clinic services

• high-deductible health plans gaining traction

• technology allowing for new care settings, new pace of diagnosis, and lower costs

• Investors backing innovation in health care delivery
Rick Kellerman, MD, president of the American College of Family Physicians (AAFP) says, "The major lesson is that patients want convenience,"
To that end, the AAFP encourages members to simultaneously collaborate and compete with retail clinics. Members collaborate with retail clinics by serving as a supervising physician or as a referral physician for medical problems beyond the retail clinic scope. They compete by having longer hours, less waiting, and lower fees.

Opportunities created by retail clinics include:

• Creating an inside track for downstream referrals.

• Thinking of retail clinics as a mechanism for drawing new patients...
• Recognizing half of retail clinic customers who need referrals are sent to physicians or groups named specifically by the clinic.

• Meeting with medical directors of these clinics to build bridges and open dialogue.
• Acknowledging these clinics are probably not a passing fad, to wit, Harris Interactive Surveys indicate a 92% satisfaction rate among users, and large physician organizations, ProHealth Physicians in Connecticut, Sutter Health of California, Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania, and Memorial Hospital & Health System of Indiana have already opened retail clinics.

Don’t condemn or ignore the trend. Watch it closely for opportunities to establish relationships and attract referrals.

No comments: