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Retail Responding to Market Demand for Primary Care

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, February 12, 2014

4. Retail Knows How to Build Loyalty
Fourth, retailers understand labor costs. They see the value in hiring two physician assistants for the price of one primary care doctor, especially for clinics with extended operating hours. I am speculating here, but I would imagine that retailers can run outpatient facilities at a much lower cost than can traditional providers.

In addition to keeping the doors open longer, retailers can rely on steady walk-in traffic and more convenient locations. It's conceivable that they'd advertise for flu shots, cholesterol screenings, or other primary care service loss leaders to get customers in the door.

And it's all about getting customers in the door and developing brand loyalty, another retail strong suit. As they expand clinical services, retailers will become even more sophisticated and will continually assess and experiment to determine what customers want.

The patient with diabetes, for example, may be directed toward an aisle carrying skincare and products for feet. An overweight or obese customer at a supermarket-based walk-in clinic might be directed towards the fresh vegetable aisle. Patient satisfaction is a relatively new idea in traditional medicine. In retail, it's always been about customer satisfaction.

What are physicians to do about all of this? First, they should acknowledge that they probably cannot go toe-to-toe with retail chains that can stay open longer, and have cheaper labor costs, more convenient locations, and see more foot traffic.

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