Retail pharmacies, we’re familiar with that term. Retail healthcare or retail clinics are strange to some but a proven business model. Businesses in retail already exist – maybe it’s a grocery store or hypermarkets like Target or Walmart – all it needs is a PA or NP or physician to offer healthcare out of those centers.
The big advantage here is that the footprint already exists and the national reach is there. People living in remote parts of the US might not have access to a lot of different stores but there is a Costco or Walmart or Dollar Tree near them, somewhere.
Walmart, with 10,000 locations and 2 million employees is certainly aware of its impressive world footprint but also its dwindling retail reach because of online shopping.
Retailers are losing market shares to Amazon and slowly to Alibaba. The physical footprint is expensive and to make the most of it you have to offer whatever services customers or payers are willing to pay for.
Let’s slay the clinical beast right from the start: retail healthcare won’t deliver good healthcare. Just like the cheap, imported products peddled at Target that is what you’ll get from retail healthcare. There would be no way otherwise to secure a high enough profit margin for a large organization.
It won’t be surgeries or chemotherapy offered at these locations, obviously. Retail healthcare will deliver basic access – which really should read, they will deliver the fasted access to medications otherwise inaccessible locked behind medical licenses.
You’re a busy mom, perhaps a single mom who can’t miss any time off of work, and Timmy has a runny nose. You want that antibiotic and you’re not leaving without it. You stop by Target, drop Timmy off and get his Augmentin and a 6-pack of soda to wash the medication down with.
Retail clinics will offer things that are easy to deliver, cheap to store, and offer high-profit margins. Naturally, if you’re already carrying NeilMed or Mucinex, you’ll want your clinicians to recommend those products – double-dipping, yes, illegal, no.
Other services or products offered will be:
- point of care testing for Strep or COVID-19 or influenza
- antibiotics, antifungals, antivirals
- medication refills
- ear lavage
- urine tests
- STD tests
Each organization will come up with its own very arbitrary guidelines as to what to prescribe and what services to offer. This will be compiled by their in-house counsel and whatever they are comfortable signing off of.
Of course, this is a great opportunity for an interested physician to write about and become an expert in. What are the risks? Profit margins? The epidemiological stats regarding that disease? Sources for funding to treat certain conditions? What are good methods of rolling out a new service?
Retail Healthcare Advantages
I don’t want to disparage retail healthcare. If you can help a patient with a UTI, yeast infection, a pediatric ear infection, or a blood pressure medication refill then you are truly adding value.
Other advantages might be access to birth control and patient education. And if you can offer some lab testing then you’ll also help identify or risk-stratify certain individuals and possibly help delay the onset of chronic disease.
It’s far easier attaching technology to retail healthcare than it is to mainstream health delivery systems. Retail health is efficient and quick-moving.
Competing with the Retail Clinic
I’ve already read a few Linkedin posts about how retail healthcare will increase competition and drive private practices out of business. No, it won’t. Private practices are getting driven out because of the insurance mandates which are pushed into law by large medical groups and insurance groups.
As for competition, no physician is trying to compete with the kind of care that retail healthcare offers. But few physicians care to be out in the middle of nowhere offering healthcare to those who have a low health literacy and in a setting with very little support.
If I wanted to compete with a retail clinic in my area I would offer more services and demonstrate my higher capabilities compared to their clinic staff, whether NP/PA or MD/DO. I’d see patients for all sorts of reasons and offer telemedicine for off-hours whether with myself or an associate clinician.
Opportunities for Physicians
I like that healthcare access is getting the attention of investors and entrepreneurs. There is a lot we can do to improve healthcare. This also means that for an innovative-minded physician there is a lot of opportunities here.
Just creating a blog with this kind of information would be a huge space to occupy with plenty of revenue opportunities.
You can also be an undercover patient for each of these clinics and write insider reviews. Also unique and also a great opportunity to help drive a higher standard of care.
You could also start a small practice and partner with these retail locations directly. You would be operating out of their locations but you’d have your own business inside. It will be a good way for you to test out the model and for them to have the opportunity to later purchase such clinics from you.
You can also do a little data analysis and figure out which medical conditions are the most lucrative to treat and which are the rifest with complaints or lawsuits. That’s a great list to update on your site as well.
Online pharmacies and home testing will be a big part of healthcare in the near future. Whatever can’t be done at home such as infusions or injections or certain tests will be done at peripheral labs such as in these retail locations instead of certified labs.
Mobile x-ray and more compact imaging modalities like US and event CTs are eventually going to be introduced more directly to consumers. Such retail centers might be the most accessible for patients to have such studies done in the future.
Healthcare Consumer Demands
I can write a whole article on the characteristics of the prototypical healthcare consumer. This group sees healthcare as a service or product which is well-defined – it’s a widget which has a clear purpose, value, and cost.
Of course, that’s not what healthcare is. The delivery of clinical care is and should be messy, somewhat confusing, indirect, synchronous, and asynchronous, and doesn’t have a defined end-point.
The modern healthcare consumer wants to walk into a clinic, get a medication, a treatment, or a referral and walk out. They aren’t looking for too much interference and prefer to retain control over the entire service process.
Large companies have realized this because they have far better access to healthcare data than the average physician. This is what retail healthcare is, for better or worse. And it has and should have a place in our current healthcare model.