The poor economy, constantly rising healthcare costs, higher healthcare insurance premiums, and general healthcare industry upheaval are causing consumers to cut back on medical use. Some are forgoing expensive visits to traditional doctors' offices to seek more affordable sources.
"People just aren't using healthcare like they have. Utilization is lower than we expected, and it's unusual," said Wayne DeVeydt, WellPoint Inc.'s chief financial officer in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.
Shopping centers for medical services This is where some traditional retail formats, such as the "medical mall," enter the picture. Like the traditional shopping mall, these centers offer one-stop shopping convenience, but for related healthcare services such as pulmonary, dentistry, pediatrics/podiatry, neurology, oncology, family practice, pharmacies, lab services and imaging all under one roof. The mix varies greatly from center to center, but the good news is that clustering medical services saves patients money by offering medical treatment on an outpatient basis. Less patient time in the hospital contributes to lowering healthcare costs.
The concept offers a challenge to architects to emulate the "retail experience" philosophy of today's innovative shopping centers, but thus far exciting design has not been a trademark of the medical mall.
Mass market retailers capitalizing on the trend In response to today's cost-conscious healthcare consumer, retailers such as Target, Walmart, Shopko, and CVS have developed their own versions of the "Minute Clinic." These small, in-store facilities deliver health screenings and vaccinations and treat common illnesses, minor injuries, and skin conditions. Admission is on a non-appointment basis, and care is administered by family nurse practitioners and physician assistants.
Walmart partners with local hospitals and leases space to clinical companies such as Saltanic, which has doctors on staff and offers a wider range of services including x-rays. Target, on the other hand, has taken a slower, more experimental approach after closing the MinuteClinics it had opened in a limited number of stores.
Humanizing the hospital In his ground-breaking book, If Disney Ran your Hospital, Fred Lee proposes that the hospital’s job is to maximize the patientcare experience and minimize anxiety, just as the world’s successful retailers maximize the customer experience. Lee identifies a major opportunity for hospital management to cultivate the patient's and their family’s loyalty as a way of bringing them back and spreading the word of quality treatment.
Retailers inspired by Lee's advice are opening stores within hospitals. The most notable example is the Build-A-BearWorkshop located in Cook Children’s Medical Center (Fort Worth, Texas). Its product offer incorporates a medical-center theme with patient gowns, lab coats, doctors' scrubs, and medical outfits available to outfit your bear. Family members can also record their own voices in a recorded get-well message inside a gift bear.
Fundamental change There is no question that healthcare is becoming a new consumer market. The New York Times recently reported, "Even with a halting economic recovery, doctors and others say many people are still extremely budget-conscious, signaling the possibility of a fundamental change in Americans’ appetite for health care." Will retailers, hospitals and doctors take advantage of this shift in public attitude to meet the new demand?