The Role of Retail in Revolutionizing Health Care, Part III

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The Role of Retail in Revolutionizing Health Care, Part III

By Dave Nazaruk - 07/21/2009
In the last article in this series on the retail industry’s impact on the health-care system and the U.S. economy (Role of Retail in Health Care PG article 2), we examined the “relationship touch point”: retailers’ ongoing, loyal, high-frequency interaction with and accessibility to all consumers. This established bond with nearly the entire U.S. population uniquely positions food and drug retailers as the most logical — yet most underappreciated and, therefore, underleveraged — hub in the overarching health-care delivery system to drive comprehensive population health management programs, particularly in the areas of health promotion and disease awareness, prevention and management.

In addition to this relationship connection, retailers enjoy two other unique and compelling touch points with all consumers that bolster this claim:

”Workflow,” a position as an embedded part of consumers’ everyday routines, which we will review in this article, and

”Incentive,” the ability to deliver powerful rewards to motivate desired behaviors, which will be investigated in Part IV in this series.

The Workflow Touch Point

Today’s consumers are too maxed-out timewise to adopt any additional behaviors [m] even health-improving, cost-containing ones [m] unless they can be seamlessly woven into their everyday routines. Activities that can be simply incorporated will be readily adopted; those that do not easily fit into consumers’ routines will not garner high engagement and use rates. This phenomenon partially explains why many health and disease management programs — even excellently designed “free” ones offered by health plans and employers — aren’t more widely embraced by the consumers they are intended to help. (As an aside, even when these payer-based programs are accepted and utilized, the percentage of the entire U.S. population eligible to receive them at any given time is extremely small, and the number of consumers positively impacted in proportion to those at risk or already living with costly chronic conditions amounts to the proverbial drop in the bucket.)

There are any number of factors influencing consumer adoption of payer-based programs — including ones regarding privacy concerns on the part of employees and the wide number of points along the consumer behavior-change spectrum having to do with individual consumers’ “readiness to change.” But perhaps the single biggest factor (or at least the most widely overlooked one) is the inability to integrate such programs into a large number of those consumers’ “workflow.”

The one health-related touch point common to a vast majority of consumers every week of the year and, therefore, the most ideal one to achieve this workflow integration is the shopping trip. Consumers are already in the routine of shopping to pick up their medications, food and other health-improving products, and retailers have an exponentially higher level of consumer engagement — in terms of frequency, loyalty and actionable, quantifiable impact on outcomes — than any other health-care venue, including the primary care physician.

This routine interaction provides retailers with the unique opportunity to introduce and continually engage shoppers in education, awareness, and reminders about their health-care needs — both in-store as well as electronically, where technology can now utilize a variety of permission-based data already available to most retailers to drive highly personalized content, interventions programs, rewards, and contextually relevant ads and offers at scale to millions of registered users.

Notable chain-specific efforts to capitalize on that engagement are found across the industry, but food and drug retailers as a unified whole could have a more profound impact for large-scale health promotion and disease prevention than any other sector of the health-care system — at a time when our nation is desperate for real leadership and practical, action-oriented solutions in these areas. 

In Part IV of this series, we’ll look at the “incentive touch point,” retail’s unique ability to deliver powerful rewards to motivate desired behaviors. To read Parts I and II in this series, visit Role of Retail in Health Care_PG article 1 and Role of Retail in Health Care PG article 2. To download a comprehensive White Paper on this topic from Nazaruk, visit Get Role of Retail in Revolutionizing Health Care White Paper.