When retail health clinics first came on the scene several years ago, many healthcare leaders didn't quite know what to make of them. On the one hand, they could help hospitals by keeping non-emergency cases out of overcrowded EDs, but there was also a risk that the clinics could take away some downstream revenue from hospitals.
It's now clear that both views are true: in addition to taking a load off EDs, retail clinics are also poised to take on the roles of primary care provider and disease management. Hospital leaders have the choice of either trying to beat retail clinics—a difficult proposition—or joining them. Ignoring clinics will not be an option.
NPR recently reported on a leaked confidential document from Walmart that revealed the conglomerate has set its sights on becoming the nation's largest provider of primary healthcare services. The document indicated Walmart's interest in monitoring patients with asthma, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and other chronic conditions.
While Walmart has since said that it does not plan to build a "nationally integrated, low cost primary care platform," clearly it and other operators of retail clinics are looking to expand their services. In fact, Walmart and CVS Caremark—the largest operator of in-store clinics, with nearly 550 in the U.S.—have already started programs to help diabetics monitor and control their condition.
This ambition is significant to strategically minded healthcare marketers. Hospitals can ill afford to lose primary care and chronic disease patients, but they are also hard-pressed to compete with the convenience and pre-set low prices the clinics offer.
But there's a way out of this predicament—partnering with a retail clinic.