The Retail Revolution is Changing Modern Medical Care and Healthcare Organizations Need to Act Now
By Shelley Davis, RN
Shelley Davis, RN, MSN is VP of clinical strategy at Lightbeam Health Solutions of Irving, TX.
As patients and healthcare providers continue to navigate a post-pandemic world, we have begun to see an overlying trend — especially among the younger generation — that favors convenience and transparency in the way healthcare services are obtained. Retail health is defining a generation of patients who are taking healthcare into their own hands and steering away from the relationship-based patient-PCP (primary care physician) system that older generations have followed.
This can come with some benefits, as more convenient healthcare makes treatment accessible for a wider patient population. However, this new healthcare trend also has potential downsides.
To grow and change with the world around us, health systems must be able to answer two questions. Why are these changes are taking place? How can this new mindset be leveraged to make healthcare more accessible and forge a positive, meaningful impact on many lives?
Consumers Can Shop for Anything They Need, Including Healthcare Providers
The retail health phenomenon comes at a time when digital fluency is high. Most Millennial- and Generation Z-aged patients prefer to choose provider offices that offer a better patient-centered experience or with the highest reviews, much like shopping for a new product or home appliance.
In the past, one might have found it odd to receive an eye exam or mammogram at Walmart or to check into a walk-in clinic instead of contacting a PCP when you become sick. Nowadays, a person’s first thought when it comes to their healthcare options is, typically, convenience. This can be due to any number of reasons. Patients may prefer:
- To be seen at a moment’s notice.
- To come in late or on weekends.
- To have financial transparency or listed prices.
- To see a provider without having insurance.
- To go to the clinic or office closest or within walking distance to them.
- To multi-task, such as grocery shopping immediately after receiving a check-up or vaccine.
Many of these scenarios can be tied back to the health inequities that impact a patient’s ability to acquire the medical care they need. It makes sense that patients have to make decisions based on whether they will have finances, transportation, or even shelter. However, while the convenience of retail health does offer benefits, its drawbacks cannot be ignored.
Benefits and Downsides to the Retail Health Model
When taking it at face value, the trend toward retail health might seem appealing. After all, having this level of convenience allows providers to see patients at intervals flexible with many schedules. More benefits include:
- Retail health pushes organizations to be more transparent with costs to compete with these convenience-based clinics.
- Retail health overall is more patient-centric. Moving toward a patient-centric approach rather than provider-centric overall prioritizes the needs of patients.
- Through retail health, many patients can receive basic care who otherwise would not receive medical attention at all, even though that care may not be the highest quality.
But with these positives come some clear drawbacks. When patients are given this degree of autonomy over their own health journey, it puts an enormous responsibility on their shoulders. Patients who adhere to the behaviors of retail health must act as their own medical historian, care manager, and health expert.
From the patient side, these concerns are rooted in an extreme lack of consistency and continuation of care, stemming from little to no engagement or follow-up after an appointment, as well as disjointed health record tracking. When patients go to multiple places for care that do not communicate with each other, an information silo is created, resulting in reduced efficiency, lower quality services, and potential treatment duplication.
Additionally, the use of medications is significantly higher in patients who use retail health. If a patient does not see a physician or care team consistently, many things can be missed or misdiagnosed. Preventive screening recommendations take a back seat to addressing acute needs and new symptomatology. It also puts a provider at a disadvantage to not have all the information they need, such as family history, past illnesses, symptoms, allergies, and drug interferences. This, in turn, increases the consumers risk of medication compatibility issues, treatment gaps, and single symptom management.
How Can Healthcare Organizations Bridge the Gap Between Convenience and Quality?
Retail health is setting some great precedents that can be harnessed to elevate the more traditional healthcare model to one that is more inclusive, accessible, convenient, and transparent. Opening healthcare information while respecting HIPAA guidelines and privacy could solve many of the issues that are associated with data silos while giving providers more access to important patient information and taking the onus off the patient to act as their sole care manager.
Telehealth has the building blocks to be a great alternative for easier access to care while maintaining consistency and quality. Its capabilities include:
- Remote patient-provider visits that reach wider audiences and encourage patient engagement.
- Online or virtual classes to encourage medical literacy for chronic conditions that patients may not know how to best manage on their own, such as diabetes and hypertension.
- Improved coordination of care between multiple providers.
- Encouraged patient communities that benefit from cohort-learning or developing interpersonal relationships with others in their group
Going beyond the digital environment, larger healthcare organizations can also take actions to forge partnerships with after-hour facilities or clinics within their communities to bring the high-quality care they provide to those who rely on convenience.
Along with telehealth, other solutions that can be leveraged to match the convenience and transparency of retail health are:
- Deviceless or device-based remote patient monitoring.
- After-hours hospital clinics to capture patients who need care outside of the traditional 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. window.
The new mindset surrounding healthcare and how medical services are obtained is not going anywhere anytime soon. Larger health organizations should listen to the needs of their communities and extend their capabilities to match those needs as best they can. Ultimately, the key is to meet patients where they are.