The rise of retail-based healthcare (e.g., Walgreens, CVS, Target) means that primary healthcare is increasingly being given to patients outside of a general practitioner’s office. What does this mean for the stores where this is taking place, for the physicians who are being avoided, and for the pharmaceutical industry?
Over the past decade, thousands of retail-based healthcare offerings have sprung up in many communities, offering everything from preventative care (e.g., flu shots) to diagnosis and treatment for common conditions (e.g., ear infections, urinary tract infections, strep throat). Their appeal lies in their convenience: they’re nearby and often offer the ability to be seen quicker than a GP. Plus, you can pick up some ibuprofen and toothpaste while you’re there.
Some question it. In its 2014 article, “The Case Against Drugstore Clinics,” The Atlantic wondered whether, if forced to choose, we would prefer quick, convenient care or a personal, enduring relationship: ”Behind the choice of care delivery models lies a more fundamental question: Do we want to be treated as healthcare consumers or patients?”
It’s a valid question worth deliberating — but in the meantime, retail-based healthcare is a fact of currentlife, with more than 35 million patient visits since 2000.
Retail pharmacy chains like Walgreens, Boots and CVS Health, as well as Walmart, have begun to make deals and build structures to improve their ability to deliver not just medicine, but also health services. And as their clientele rises, their business goals are getting more robust.
They’re pulling out all the stops, developing robust mobile apps that refill prescriptions, remind you to take your pills and let you chat with a pharmacist. Many have begun offering telehealth consultations. Rite Aid is piloting HealthSpot kiosks, equipped with a stethoscope and sphygmomanometer, that let a patient monitor their vitals with a doctor’s remote supervision.
In July 2015, CVS made a deal with IBM to use their Watson supercomputer to analyze customer data to help “pharmacists, nurse practitioners at Minute Clinics or connected healthcare providers … improve member health and manage cost.” Nearly simultaneously, CVS also purchased Target’s nearly 1,700 pharmacies.
Retailers are also partnering with on-demand healthcare companies to offer home visits. Thanks to the use of beacons, app users get a notification if they walk into the store and have a prescription waiting. And there’s more on the way — they’re testing apps that can do everything from text your caregiver if you’re not taking your medicine to let your phone help you diagnose and get treatment for an ear infection 24 hours a day.
Physicians are becoming cognizant of this overall trend — cognizant and concerned. As The Atlantic noted, it moves transactional convenient care — both the dollars and the patient relationships — out of their offices.
It’s important for pharma marketers to understand this new paradigm. Most large retail pharmacy chains ban visits from pharma sales rep, and most pharmacists rely on a few dozen hours a year of continuing education. So if rep visits and conferences are out, how can brand messages get into this important new realm?
The need to communicate with pharmacists — and with the nurse practitioners, registered nurses and physician assistants who also accompany physicians in the pantheon of healthcare practitioners — is not new. Even when an HCP does not have prescribing ability, they often have the ability to recommend and suggest switches, both for OTC and RX products, and to affect compliance and refill. This influence has been often overlooked in the prescription process, but is enormous, particularly for chronic conditions. This is where digital solutions can be priceless.
The more informed we can help all healthcare influencers be, the more we can help get the right care to the right patients.