Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Following Patient Preferences into a Blue Ocean

The delivery of health care has traditionally been a red ocean. Its market space was well defined with well-established expectations and a commodification of health care services. Even end-customers customers of were well aware of how the game was played.  Just think about it, we all know to expect wait times of hours rather than minutes when it comes to the emergency department. And for our regular check-ups we expect our appointments to function around the convenience and schedule of the physician, not the needs of the paying customer.

Enter retail health centers such as MinuteClinic, Walgreen's Healthcare Clinic, and The Clinic at Walmart. These clinics emerged from existing industries and professionals to link existing technologies and services to what patients valued: convenience. The Healthcare Clinic at Walgreens (formerly the Take Care Clinic) is great example of this blue ocean industry recreation.

The Healthcare Clinic provides walk-in appointments for services that traditionally took place in a primary care visit. This includes wellness visits, vaccines, health screenings, colds and flus, minor injuries, and skin conditions. These visits are held at convenient locations (typically easy to find and easy to park) with convenient schedules including weekend and after-hours availability. Notably walk in visits are welcome every day during every hour the clinic function, a major distinction from the few physician offices that offer walk in appointments. Adding to the convenience,  The Healthcare Clinic's website even lists an expected wait time for each location allowing potential patients to compare wait times, distance, and business hours to select the location that best suits their needs.

Retails clinics demonstrate many qualities of blue oceans. They have created demand by their customer-centric approach. They are profitable and growing rapidly, increasing from about 200 retail clinics nationwide in 2006 to over 900 in 2008. Finally, they broke the cost/value tradeoff by providing quality services patients value within a system that facilitates a low cost for profit.

Physicians offices and hospitals have certainly taken note of the emerging power of retail clinics and urgent care centers (for health needs that require more immediate attention; an alternative to emergency room visits). However, medical professionals and organizations are notoriously slow to adapt their ways to the changing times and expectations. One of their most common complaints is that change will negatively affect the quality of the care they deliver and therefore their reputation and revenue. Will physician groups and hospitals be able to recreate the convenience of these clinics within their own practices without conflicting with their brand image or historical norms?


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