What healthcare can learn from retail

By Jeff Rowe
11:23 AM

Drugstore chains like CVS and Walgreens, as well as big boxers like Walmart and Target, are steadily reorganizing the healthcare landscape by, among other things, opening up walk-in clinics and enlisting on-site pharmacists in an effort to give consumers quick, accessible attention.

No, retail-based healthcare isn't about to replace traditional care models anytime soon, but at a time when providers are being challenged to become more innovative, it seems reasonable to think one good place to look for ideas or inspiration might be the retailers who've made healthcare innovation a core of their business strategies for the foreseeable future.

All that is essentially the backdrop to a recent interview with Norman de Greve, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of CVS in, of all things, Adweek. Once again, it may not be a typical source of insight for healthcare providers, but if one person's branding is another person's patient engagement (at least on one level), then it may actually be a fine place for providers to look for ideas on how to get their patients more plugged into their own care.

For starters, CVS has certainly been busy expanding its footprint in the healthcare space.  As the writer itemizes, "In 2006, CVS acquired MinuteClinic, a walk-in clinic provider; the next year it merged with pharmacy benefits manager Caremark; and in 2013, it bought home infusion services company Coram. Earlier this month, CVS revealed its latest initiative to combat tobacco addiction with its "Be the First" campaign, a five-year, $50 million effort through education, advocacy, tobacco control and healthy behavior programming."

Each of these moves, of course, has been buttressed by well-considered marketing and branding efforts, and according to de Greve, the success of those efforts is reflected in the company's sustained growth, in "how much of the prescription market we are capturing," in their internal research that "shows we're viewed as a health leader among influencers and large employers" and also in key marketplace rankings such as Fortune's Most Admired Companies list and Fast Company's Most Innovative Companies list.

And the future, de Greve says, seems bright as well. "As we continue to expand our core pharmacy business, reach new healthcare channels, invest in new capabilities and build our brand, we are poised to enjoy steady enterprise growth," he predicts.

What won't be discussed in a marketing report, of course, is the effectiveness of the care being delivered or the subsequent impact on overall population health. But if a big part of the challenge facing providers consists of figuring out how to get patients more consistently plugged in while also maintaining a healthy balance sheet in an age of ever-tightening compensation, then a few more insights into how to attract and satisfy customers can only be a good thing.

Look at it this way: healthcare organizations want to serve patients while remaining financially healthy. Big box retailers wading further into healthcare want to stay financially healthy by serving more patients.  Is there any good reason why this can't be, if not the beginning of a beautiful friendship, at least grounds for a mutually beneficial partnership?

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