In recent years, retail has collided with the healthcare sector. Some call it the retail revolution.
This revolution has been characterized by the rapid advance of large retailers in and across healthcare delivery and technology. Driven in large part by the shift in healthcare towards consumerism and patient experience, the revolution is also fueled by technological innovation – as well as how providers and patients have responded to the pandemic.
Laura Kreofsky is vice president of strategy at Pivot Point Consulting, a healthcare consulting firm that works with provider organizations. She has been a keen observer of the retail revolution and its impact on healthcare.
We interviewed Kreofsky to get a sense of the pros and cons of retail entering healthcare, the impact of the revolution on hospitals and healthcare systems, his belief that provider organizations need to implement a digital strategy to be competitive and what healthcare CIOs should be doing today.
Q. Who is leading the healthcare retail revolution, and what are the pros and cons of this revolution?
A. The revolution is led by four entities: Amazon, CVS, Walgreens and Walmart. While there are significant similarities in their business strategies, each of them has unique capabilities and goals and it will be fascinating to see how the landscape evolves and who emerges as the market leader or leaders.
As for the pros and cons of this change, the answer to this question depends on your perspective. This is obviously a challenge for traditional care delivery organizations. Not only are there new competitors, but they are delivering care in places and with resource models that are largely foreign to traditional models.
For patients and consumers, the emergence of retail healthcare brings convenience and improved access, at a reasonable cost. These factors alone can ultimately lead to better results in many cases.
However, this requires a paradigm shift – one we see in other industries and areas of our lives. If you think back over 20 years ago, the patient-doctor relationship was sacrosanct.
While this may still be true for specialty care and chronic conditions, most of us are willing to see – in person or virtually – any qualified provider to diagnose and treat minor and common ailments. We have adopted this in other areas of our lives, from taxi services to banking. So why not health?
And finally, for Amazon, CVS, Walgreens and Walmart, and a host of other players in this market, the retail revolution offers them an entry point into the world’s largest industry, leveraging their basic skills in services, geography and technology.
Q. How is the retail revolution affecting hospitals and healthcare systems today?
A. My favorite line from Ernest Hemingway The sun also rises It’s when Bill, one of the main characters, asks, “How did you go broke,” to which his friend replies, “Gradually, then suddenly.” This is what is happening to hospitals and healthcare systems today with regard to shifts in market share and consumerism.
None of this is new: small-scale healthcare has been around for 15 years, and I wrote my first article on patient experience/consumerism 10 years ago when I realized that it would be a wave of the future.
However, for more than 10 years, most healthcare systems have focused on: market growth and positioning vis-à-vis other healthcare systems, EHR optimization and the impact of a significant, the Affordable Care Act, the 21s Century Cures Act, and, in addition, the pandemic. And over those years, retail leaders were developing capabilities to capitalize on the promise of marketed healthcare.
The net result is that hospitals and healthcare systems are caught behind the eight ball of this transformation – in terms of geographic convenience, advanced supply chain, skilled staff and marketing. These challenges would have been daunting even without the pandemic and the mass exodus of frontline health workers. Now the threat is even greater.
Interestingly enough, the “great resignation” of hospital and healthcare system staff may actually be fueling the retail revolution. Staff nurses and clinical staff can migrate to supposedly less stressful retail work environments, and IT analysts and developers can find careers in these dynamic and disruptive spaces.
Q. You suggest that the retail revolution reinforces the need for healthcare systems to execute a digital strategy and deliver a frictionless end-to-end patient experience that will be a differentiator and competitive advantage over the convenience of retail health care. Please specify what you think health systems should do.
A. Health systems need to move from a defensive position to a proactive one where they have skills or an inherent competitive advantage to exploit. Here are three key areas to focus on.
First, access. Provider organizations need to make care highly accessible – and through self-service. Capitalizing on all the capabilities of the patient portal is table stakes. There is still a lot to be done on the digital front door – social media and web presence needs to be optimized.
Everything from finding a doctor to real-time telehealth to service algorithms must be integrated and transparent. Don’t forget that in the world of retail, it only takes a few clicks to find a care site near you that is open, offers the services you are looking for and has the capacity. Supplier organizations must meet – or surpass – this “before the door” experience for consumers.
Second, back-end support. While we admire Amazon for its commerce capabilities and the frictionless experience it typically provides, things can go wrong with an order or a return. And when they do, it usually takes an act of Congress to fix it. I’m not picking on Amazon, rather thinking about how they’ve standardized so many retail processes. When things go wrong, it’s often hard to find the right service agent. [or] appeal channel.
Healthcare providers can deliver a more personalized back-end service experience – thanks to their web presence, a contact center, and a culture that emphasizes customer engagement and services.
It’s the difference between going to a grocery store and asking where the baking soda is. In one store, you are told “in aisle 15 or 16, I think” and in another, you go to the specific place in the right aisle to find the product. What service experience appeals to you?
And third, comprehensive care. Healthcare systems are just that – systems that can provide a depth and range of services that retail providers don’t. Addressing the access and service components of the care experience outlined above will help foster adherence and longitudinal services.
From there, building – through in-house services or a good combination of community-based specialist and social service providers – the capacity to deliver a full continuum of care tailored to the needs of target populations will be a differentiator. for provider organizations.
Q. On that note, what should CIOs and other IT leaders do today in provider organizations?
A. From a healthcare IT/digital perspective, CIOs really need to be in sync with their strategy, marketing, and growth teams. They also need to think way beyond EHR and clinic/hospital delivery. It’s important for CIOs and other healthcare IT managers to work collaboratively with their current vendors and explore new vendors and technologies.
It’s essential to keep up to date with what’s happening in the digital experience, apps, AI, and startup space. Attending healthcare industry events is a great way to do this – don’t delegate it to operational managers. They fulfill their essential role as operators. CIOs and other strategic leaders need to keep their eyes on the horizon.
As noted, traditional healthcare systems are lagging behind in responding to market developments. CIOs and other leaders will need to be more visionary and willing to explore partnerships and platforms at a scale and speed that only two or three years ago seemed unimaginable.