The Retailing of Healthcare

Say the word “Dallas,” and many people immediately think of pastures filled with Longhorn cattle, tumbleweeds along an empty highway, and J.R. Ewing. Luckily, anyone who has visited Dallas in the last half-century knows that the city is a premier destination for business, innovation, tourism, and residential communities.

Dallas has become a mecca for several industries, including retail and healthcare. These sectors are long-standing elements to the city’s growth. With hospitals like Baylor, Methodist, and Texas Health Resources dotting the map of North Texas, it’s clear that we know a thing or two about caring for the health of others. Yet when I consider medical care and Dallas’ many shopping destinations, I can’t help but think that those in healthcare could take a note from the retail industry.

Historically, the healthcare system has paid little attention to convenience. Providers once relied on the notion that individuals will seek medical care on an “as-needed” basis, and paid little thought to great service or exemplary standards. However, rising costs, alternative healthcare delivery models, and greater patient financial responsibility has transformed passive patients into empowered consumers.

During the past few years, the need for convenient and affordable medical care has grown immensely, helping to spur the creation of new access points. With rising healthcare costs and fewer primary care physicians available, patients are already using their buying power to show support for emerging models of care.

Like any consumer driven business, the success of healthcare providers will rest in the hands of patients, thereby determining the future of the health industry. With patients as empowered consumers, individuals will continue to support providers who offer personal service, proven outcomes and affordable services. Just like those titans of the retail industry, it’s clear that an outstanding (patient) experience is just as important as the goods/services being provided.

In order to make a healthcare organization consumer-driven and patient-focused, we have to adopt a new vision, in which service is as vitally important as the care being provided. With major changes to the healthcare system set to debut in 2014, healthcare organizations must understand that great service will become an important differentiator that ultimately determines the success or demise of the company.

Whether retail, healthcare, or even data technology, all companies gain when an outstanding experience is at the forefront of the business model, and the rules of great service are the same:

  • Create an environment where employees are empowered to meet the needs of the customer
  • Focus on improving the quality of the service and the customer’s overall experience
  • Utilize consumer research to measure expectations and outcomes
  • Build a mission-driven culture that exceeds the customer’s expectations, and drives loyalty

The concept of bringing a retail approach to medical care has helped to create a whole new segment in the industry. Just a short time ago, patients only had the option of either a primary care physician or the complexity of major hospital systems, neither of which were conducive to the lives of busy individuals and families. By making healthcare services available to people at times and locations that are most convenient, there has been a proliferation of providers in urgent care.

Today, options range from Minute Clinic at CVS stores to CareNow, PrimaCare, and Concentra Urgent Care centers, even up to concierge medical services being delivered to patients’ homes or workplace. But the value lies beyond just the medical care being given—it begins with the experience, the personalization of care, and how companies interact with their end users.

The definition of a good business arrangement is one that meets the needs of all constituents. This is also the goal of retail and healthcare. A successful healthcare organization will be one that creates new and improved healthcare options for consumers, and does so in an environment of trust, warmth and respect.

As we look ahead to this new healthcare landscape, we have an opportunity to make Dallas a destination for exceptional service-driven healthcare.

— Jim Greenwood is CEO of Concentra Inc., a subsidiary of Humana Inc.