Sunday, September 21, 2014

What is wrong with this retail clinic picture?


By living in a major metropolitan area, one has the privilege of seeing firsthand how hospitals and health systems are approaching the establishment of a retail medicine strategy and the healthcare consumer. Or maybe it’s really and more appropriately, the absence of an understanding of that particular market strategy.

As written in the past, delivering retail medicine is a whole lot different than providing hospital outpatient services, or even building a medical office building, launching ambulatory care center or employing physicians.

The other day, I came across a small health systems foray into retail medicine.  It was by accident mind you because in coming by the location literally hundreds of times and even entering the grocery store, I never really noticed it before. The only reason I think I noticed because of the store pharmacy curbside signs about flu shot availability. And there has been no active marketing of the location to the neighborhood.

So what did I see? A sign high above the awning on the side of the grocery store with the hospital name XYZ Clinic. Jet back windows facing the parking lot communicating more about dark secrets within than with  lettering about name, hours, contact and services. When one goes inside the store, (and the location of the retail clinic is right next to the main entry to the store in a high traffic area) the healthcare consumer is greeted with a closed door.  No sign of anyone there except for offering a formidable and not so much a welcoming “come on in” presence for the retail healthcare consumer.

I did not write this description of what I saw to embarrass the health system, but to point out what hospital and health system executives don’t know about retail healthcare design, service delivery and marketing the retail clinic can be deadly.

Now that being said this is one case in point.  There are I am sure examples across the country of hospitals and health systems that got it right, or nearly so. But more often than not; well, that is for one to decide based on experience and knowledge.

If you are going to enter the retail medicine market, here are some rules of thumb to follow. These are offered as recommendations based on my retail healthcare experience and are not all inclusive.

To wit:
1.       This is not a hospital, MOB or an ambulatory outpatient center.  Don’t build it like you would build it if it  was a hospital, MOB or a hospital-based outpatient center.
2.       Retail medicine is about convenience, accessibility, service and price.  That means it is convenient, easily accessible, welcoming in appearance and friendly.  Exam rooms for sure but the registration and waiting area needs to be open, visible and welcoming.
3.       The healthcare consumer’s first impression and experience is everything.  It’s about them not about the hospital or the staff. If one’s clinic appears closed foreboding and “healthcare like” that’s a killer first impression.
4.       For goodness sakes, let the healthcare consumer or casual shopper know what you do there. What are the tests and exams offered?  What aliments do you treat? A sandwich board can work wonders.
5.       Before building a retail clinic, go around and see how the Walgreens, CVS Health, Rite Aid etc., store clinics are designed.  There is a reason they are designed that way and it’s not by accident. Learn from you competition.
6.       Do the market research. Understand the demographics of the neighborhood. Understand the healthcare consumer’s needs and build the retail clinic with those needs in mind. Don’t guess!  
7.       Figure out the service area for the clinic.  If there is a well established retail clinic less than two miles away from the chosen site, guess what? It’s probably not going to work or be profitable. This is retail and competition is unforgiving, as is the consumer.  That pharmacy based retail clinic down the street has been there longer than you, has established a market presence, is user friendly and customer focused.  It’s arrogant to think that by simply putting the hospital name on the clinic will make a difference.  The healthcare consumer doesn’t care.
8.       Be prepared to market the daylights out of the clinic.  Again as a reminder this is retail. The marketing rules are different.  Presence in the market builds preference. No continuous marketing presence, no preference for what you have to offer.

These are just some of my rules of thumb for establishing a retail medicine presence. Not perfect and not all encompassing, but a simple start offered for consideration.

Healthcare is evolving into a semi retail model of care and service delivery.  A model that is about the healthcare consumer built around their needs that is accessible, convenient, priced right and provides a consumer experience that is second to none.

Make it look like what one does like everything else in the hospital and it’s a loser.

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