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The Retailization Of Healthcare Has Only Just Begun

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The retailization of healthcare took another step in October, when the U.S. Department of Justice gave preliminary approval for the $69B acquisition of insurer Aetna by retailer CVS.

The deal stands to transform even more retail sites into community healthcare hubs, a trend that has been building momentum for a few years.

CVS Pharmacy

The merger is the latest but hardly the last milestone in the retailization of healthcare, experts say.

"The retailization trend will continue because consumers are demanding a better experience in healthcare, similar to what they see today in retail," Microsoft Vice President U.S. Health & Life Science Chris Sakalosky said. Sakalosky will speak at Bisnow's National Healthcare Midwest event later this month. "People want convenience and high-quality care, and they want it to be easy."

"The trend of neighborhood healthcare locations will continue — and escalate," Walgreens Chief Medical Officer Patrick Carroll said. "Neighborhood health destinations will continue to grow, including primary care, urgent health care, lab, hearing and vision services."

Sakalosky predicts these clinics will expand their services over time as they master systems and certain types of care. Expect the retailization of healthcare to hit your phones as well as your shopping centers.

"Consumerization of health will drive onmichannel models to accelerate, and we're seeing that in both the established providers looking to innovate and in the startup communities focused on health," Sakalosky said. "Until it is as easy as Uber, consumers and patients will demand simpler, easier ways to get better quality care for a better cost."

Suja Mathew
Cook County Health & Hospitals System Chair of Medicine Suja Mathew

Patient demand is driving a lot of the change, Cook County Health & Hospitals System Chair of Medicine Suja Mathew said.

"The trend towards healthcare that's more convenient and accessible will absolutely continue, because the people we care for demand it from us," Mathew said. "Responsive health systems will develop new patient-centered strategies or find creative ways to partner with established entities, redefining roles and building upon existing strengths."

Retailization at its heart means healthcare delivery closer to where people live and more quickly accessible than traditional large hospitals. 

Sinai Health System is focusing less on brick-and-mortar and more on meeting people where they already are, Sinai Health System President and CEO Karen Teitelbaum said.

"For example, we have invested heavily in Community Health Workers, who connect with community members in their homes or at other places that are not hospital-centric," Teitelbaum said. "We think that results in better outcomes and higher engagement for all."

"The trend towards more ambulatory site is a reflection to move healthcare closer to and even into the home, and that is still in a very early phase," Rush Medical College Dean Ranga Krishnan said. 

James Record
Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science Chicago Medical School Dean James Record

The retailization of healthcare is also being driven by advancing technologies that allow a dispersal of healthcare operations away from the hub and out toward the spokes.

Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science Chicago Medical School Dean James Record said pivoting to more patient-centric models will drive healthcare to more integrated neighborhood locations, which are more convenient and efficient. 

"The trend will be in parallel with advancing artificial intelligence and healthcare technologies that seek to redirect more healthcare into home and mobile devices," Record said.

"In an era where Amazon and Sam’s Club stores are going cashier-less, and Bank of America has implemented teller-less robo branches, the near-ubiquitousness of smartphones, cloud services and wearables will lead to a massive expansion of and innovations in telemedicine, remote monitoring and mobile health," University of Illinois Hospital & Clinics Chief Quality Officer Jodi Joyce said.

There will probably be some bumps along the way.

"Neighborhood healthcare locations need to evolve before we figure out the perfect fit and sizing," University of Chicago Medicine Chief Analytics Officer Michael Wall said.

"My sense is that the trend will continue as there seems to be a real need to increase bandwidth for low-complexity care, but we will need to integrate this information into the patient’s overall health story," Wall said. 

Sakalosky, Mathew, Teitelbaum, Krishnan, Carroll, Record, Joyce and Wall will all be speakers at Bisnow's National Healthcare Midwest event on Nov. 27 at Loews Hotel Chicago.