Is retail learning health care faster than health care is learning retail?

March 20, 2019

By Jeff Gross, Tufts Medicine Senior Vice President of Business Development 

It’s getting pretty hard to argue with the facts. Our new reality is that traditional service models are simply not keeping pace with the changing demands from our patients. And our patients are seeking out (and finding) nontraditional alternatives because of it.  If you are a physician, getting the sense that your patients are ready to access their health care very differently or non-traditionally, you are absolutely correct. 

Seemingly, on a daily basis, we’re reading about programs, partnerships and investments in innovative models of care by CVS, Amazon, Walmart and other mega-retailers – the breadth of innovation is widening from light urgent care to chronic care management and prescription delivery. The door to disruption in traditional care delivery is now wide-open, and it’s our patients who are forcing that door open with new and changing expectations of improved service, greater access, more choices and lower cost options.

It’s time to have an honest discussion about these changes and (as importantly) decide how we choose to respond to these challenges.

Research conducted by the Advisory Board reveals a significant challenge to traditional primary and specialty care delivery methods – and many believe that the most disruptive change won’t come from within our existing industry.  Consider, the taxi industry did not introduce Uber or Lyft. The hotels certainly did not welcome the arrival of Airbnb and just ask any traditional retailer about Amazon.

We should look at the Advisory Board research findings as an opportunity to develop and introduce new models to respond to these changes.

  • Physician recommendations are weakening” -growth of new primary care options for patients are on the rise which could undermine traditional PCP relationships
  • “Meaningful alternatives are emerging” – new market entrants are providing attractive alternative care delivery, creating competition through more choices for consumers.
  • “Consumers are adopting greater financial responsibility” – the prevalence of high deductible health plans is increasing and patients’ exposure to out of pocket costs is resulting in new “shopping” behavior.

At the same time that retail giants enter the health care delivery space, further research from the Advisory Board also reflects a surprising reality about PCP loyalty – our patient relationships are more vulnerable than many of us expected.

  • Only 56% of consumers are “highly likely” to stay with their PCP over the next 12 months.
  • Only 36% of consumers are highly likely to recommend their PCP to a friend or relative.
  • 56% of consumers would consider using retail clinics and 42% would consider using telemedicine.

What are we doing about these changes? And how are we supporting our physicians?

It can be tough to hear these messages, but the very best retailers actively listen to and respond to their customer’s needs and expectations. This is just what NEQCA, along with our Tufts Medicine partners are doing. It is no surprise that many of our patients are looking for strong primary care relationships, but are also seeking care at night and on the weekends. Whenever our patients need care, we want them to find that care within the Tufts Medicine system. We are working with physician and administrative leaders across the Tufts Medicine system to explore new ways that we can serve patients urgent needs and support our physician practices, such as Urgent Care and Convenience Care models and Telemedicine solutions.

Most recently, Tufts Medicine announced a new partnership with PhysicianOne Urgent Care, a highly-respected physician-founded urgent care center with four sites in Massachusetts – Chestnut Hill, Waltham, Medford and Westwood. As NEQCA affiliates, this new partnership will expand after-hours care for patients that will be well-coordinated with your practice. To learn more about this new partnership, click here.

Additionally, in future stories, we will soon be sharing updates on the Urgent Care/Convenience Care models and new Telemedicine solutions for our patients, which are all tied tightly to their primary care physician’s care.

The research is clear and it’s up to us to continue to work together as a team to respond to these changes. Now is the time to match the quality and compassion of the care we provide with the ‘new’ service our patients are searching for.