In a time when retail healthcare is sprouting up across the country at value drugstore chains like Walgreens, what value point do consumers and patients really want?

Retail Healthcare options are emerging

Is your local drug store poised to become a healthcare provider?  It’s already happening.  What do patients really want?

“Patients have proven ready to work hard to find that perfect combination of convenient, high-quality, and cost-effective providers. Ninety percent of patients are searching online for their providers before booking an appointment, according to a November survey of 1,000 patients conducted by patient engagement technology firm Kyruus.”  — from an article in Patient Engagement HIT

Retail healthcare is appearing across the country in local drugstore chains like Walgreens.  Is it truly what people want?  A recent article in StatNews gives this trend a thumb down – noting that “it promises greater convenience and speed for delivering basic health care services — but it isn’t what patients really want,”  the writer, Timothy Hoff, goes on to detail what he learned from interviews with 80 patients and doctors.  But he does write that “retail thinking has its place in healthcare today because there are some services and products that people need quickly and which do not require a personal touch or someone who understands them as unique individuals. Such services might be low-level acute care (think strep throat), flu shots and immunizations, and some forms of simple chronic disease management, such as blood sugar checks or foot and eye exams for people with diabetes, especially if they are guideline driven.”

So, how do healthcare consumers define value in patient-centered care?  This value question seems central to the rise of retail healthcare.  We can look to some findings from a recent report from the University of Utah Health. Their research uncovered a “disconnect” in how patients, physicians, and employers “perceive the healthcare experience.” In reviewing the findings, Dr. Bob Pendleton, U of U Health’s chief medical quality officer said, “If we agree as a country that we must provide higher quality health care, a better patient experience, and at a lower cost, then we all need to understand these different viewpoints and definitions. The Value in Health Care Survey makes clear some of the specific ways we lack shared perspectives but also suggest points of convergence that can be used to map a path forward. Both are vitally important in creating a collective vision of how to achieve a value-focused health care system.”

Retail Healthcare - Does high quality healtcare have to be expensive?

Can high-quality healthcare be inexpensive? The University of Utah Health asked three groups that question and the overwhelming perception is Yes.

In their release detailing their study, U. of Utah Health explains the different perspectives of those in the healthcare system:

  • For patients, there was only one clear top value statement and it related to cost: “My out-of-pocket cost is affordable.” The remaining top nine statements comprised a mixed bag of cost, service, and quality statements ranging from “I’m able to schedule a timely appointment” to “The wait time at the office is reasonable.” Physicians had a clear “top five” statements as an indicator of high-value care—mostly focusing on quality and service measures.
  • Physicians overwhelmingly hold themselves responsible for ensuring that a patient’s health improves while patients equally hold themselves and physicians accountable. This suggests that physicians need to adopt a “team sport” approach to align themselves more closely to patients’ vision of value, and consider all stakeholders—systems, payers, employers, patients, and providers—as jointly responsible for ensuring high-value care.
  • Across the value statements, neither patients, physicians nor employers assigned responsibility to the employer, suggesting they don’t recognize the impact that employers have on employees’ health via the medical benefits plans they offer.

One surprising finding in the survey is that higher costs are not perceived as equal with higher quality, though the three groups differed in their opinions.  “Establishing, agreeing upon and clearly communicating quality metrics in healthcare has proven difficult to impossible. As a result, the concern is that patients use high prices as a proxy for high quality. This survey suggested otherwise. When patients, physicians, and employers were asked if they thought high-quality health care could also be inexpensive, an overwhelming majority agreed.”

These value considerations may be a factor of online research as more prospective patients read reviews online before choosing a provider.  Another article in Patient Engagement HIT explains how patients are finding providers in the digital age.  They conducted an interview with Alexandra Morehouse, Banner Health Senior Vice President, and Chief Marketing Officer.  Banner Health operates 28 hospitals and several specialized facilities across six states.   Online provider search has evolved, Morehouse observes. “You type in your search query and a map comes up. You see all four pediatricians in your area, and then you go immediately to the reviews. The search function allows you to filter by reviews, so people are coming on to your physician site via the review site, and it’s a very powerful way to either attract or discourage consumers.”

A couple new ways to find providers with new ways for providers to connect with and care for patients and the perceived value and patient satisfaction can increase for patients of traditional providers, and also retail healthcare facilities.  One technology shining in this area are medical Apps for smartphones and other devices.  MobiHealth details how a “software platform developed at Mount Sinai comprising of a mobile app for patients and a decision support dashboard for practitioners can improve inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) patients’ quality of care, according to clinical data recently presented at the Advances in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases Conference.”

The bottom line?  Perceived value indicators show that prospective patients continue to look for quality healthcare at an affordable cost in this day of high-deductible insurance plans.  They just might consider retail healthcare options in conjunction with traditional provider care.  We’ll keep an eye on this and report.