Digital Health

The Case For More Retailers and Health Systems to Partner

Retail Health

A new viewpoint in the Harvard Business Review made the case that health systems and retailers are only scratching the surface of their partnership potential.

The authors – a trio of professors out of Harvard and UNC – outline four actions they believe health systems and retailers should take to better coordinate their complementary services.

Move Beyond Convenience. Retailers like CVS and Walmart are beginning to add services such as primary care, mental health counseling, and home care, yet even more robust solutions like Amazon Clinic still fall short of integrated care. 

  • Things like cancer treatments and surgeries remain well outside the realm of retail health, yet a close partnership between a retailer and a health system could help integrate the many elements involved in treating more-serious conditions.

Move Care Into the Home. Although retail clinics are more convenient and accessible than hospitals, patient homes have them beat on both metrics. Hospitals have begun offering more care in the home, but often lack the logistical prowess to supply patients with the monitoring tech needed for larger programs.

  • Efficiently equipping patients’ homes with RPM devices is right in the retailer wheelhouse, and a partnership could fill the gap. Look no further than Best Buy and Geisinger for proof.

Leverage Data to Improve Care. The data held by retailers and health systems largely remains in separate databases, with some notable exceptions like Target-Kaiser Permanente.

  • The authors point out that better integration could help with everything from flu outbreak prediction (grocery carts filled with tissues = sick people) to food-as-medicine programs (well-timed nudges and incentives).

Change Who Delivers Care. Labor shortages are one of healthcare’s biggest immediate obstacles, and few employers have a larger workforce than retailers. The article gives the example of Walmart, which subsidizes education for its employees to train for roles like pharmacy technician and medical assistant.

  • Health systems could ensure these training programs meet quality standards and help graduates find jobs, creating a model where retailers attract more ambitious candidates and providers have a new talent pool to tap into.

The Takeaway

One way or the other, retailers are moving past the Retail Care 1.0 era, and it’s hard to argue against the case for tighter retailer-provider partnerships. Even if consumers might not jump at the idea of sharing their grocery list with their physician, the ideas outlined in this article are good food-for-thought for combining the complementary strengths of retailers and providers to improve the system as a whole.

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