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Hospital Competition: Will Retail Medical Clinics Change From Foe to Friend?

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

doc in a boxWith 30 million prospective new patients just over the healthcare horizon, hospitals and other provider organizations are rethinking service channel opportunities. (And alliances perhaps.)

Retail medical clinics, as one example, appear to be trending from competitive “foe to friend” on many marketing plans. A recent business study by consulting firm Accenture indicates that the number of retail clinics will double in the next three years.

Previously, we’ve written about the influx and influence of clinics that are now fairly commonly seeing patients at Walmart, Target, CVS and other retail locations throughout the nation.

Walgreens has been redefining the competitive landscape with a plan for pharmacy-run Accountable Care Organizations (ACO). And as a result of healthcare reform, large groups of newly insured people are expected to put pressure on the capacity of hospital emergency departments.

“For stretched hospital operators,” Accenture predicts, “the answer may lie in an unexpected place, and one that, until recently, was considered a rival: retail health clinics. This valuable ‘release valve’ to the strained healthcare system could jumpstart a rapid growth in retail health clinics, which may lead to a doubling of their number nationally over the next three years.”

Until recently, growth in the number of health clinics had slowed to a crawl. Competition with hospitals and primary care providers (PCP) was strong, and clinics “found patient volumes were low for all but the narrowest range of services—particularly influenza vaccinations, which tend to be highly seasonal and earn relatively low reimbursements.” Clinics, hospitals and PCPs maintained a competitive perspective and formed few partnerships.

“Today, the landscape is fundamentally different,” according to Accenture, “as hospitals and PCPs now have the opposite problem: many are operating at close to full capacity, with little chance of meeting the coming surge in demand. Now, the very clinics once perceived as rivals may represent a key tool for managing patient volume while more conventional health providers focus on higher acuity and more complex treatments.”

Patient visits at retail clinics are projected to account for 10 percent of non-primary care outpatient visits by the end of 2015. Check out the Accenture report, Why Retail Clinic Counts Will Double in Three Years.  Does this change your competitive map for the coming months? Friend or Foe—is there a retail alliance in your hospital marketing game plan? For additional insight, click through to our article and podcast titled, Hospital Emergency Departments May Be Overrun by ACA Newly Insured.

Lonnie Hirsch

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