Is Retail Medicine Truly a Threat to Traditional Healthcare?

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Any time something new threatens to disrupt the status quo of a particular industry, that industry’s main players show their displeasure. They start talking about the new thing as a threat. We are seeing that right now with the rise of retail medicine. From medical group CEOs to hospital administrators and primary care physicians, established industry players are fearful of retail medicine.

The question waiting to be answered is whether retail medicine is truly a threat to traditional healthcare. The answer depends on who you ask. Proponents of retail medicine obviously think it is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Opponents are sounding the alarm over a business model they say could threaten the foundations of traditional care.

The Basics of Retail Health

Retail medicine is more of a business model than an actual practice. It is based on the concept of applying the economics of scale to healthcare delivery. Retail health clinics are popping up in pharmacy chains, department stores, grocery stores, and elsewhere. They are generally staffed by physician assistants (PAs), nurse practitioners (NPs), and registered nurses (RNs).

In states that allow PAs and NPs to operate with limited physician oversight, retail clinics can offer primary care services at significantly reduced prices. Retail medicine then becomes the perfect option for the uninsured. It is also an option for people who may have medical insurance but no primary care doctor.

Another staple of retail medicine is the telemedicine kiosk. CSI Health is a San Antonio, TX company that makes a variety of telehealth solutions, including kiosks. Their kiosks include diagnostic devices ranging from blood pressure cuffs to glucometers and ultrasound to sonogram.

The Threat Is Financial

Knowing what we know about retail medicine brings us back to the question of whether it is truly a threat to traditional healthcare delivery. You would be hard-pressed to argue retail medicine is a threat to quality care, given that the professionals who staff retail clinics are trained and licensed in the same way their doctor’s office and hospital peers are.

As such, any threat posed by retail medicine is a financial threat. According to a 2014 report out of Stanford University, primary care is among the most profitable specialties in medicine. More recent data suggests that not much has changed over the last seven years in terms of primary care’s profitability.

Primary care is big business because most patients are dealing with minor illnesses that do not require a tremendous amount of medical intervention. GP offices can get patients in and out quickly, ultimately increasing margins as patient loads go up. Think about this for a minute and you will start to see why retail medicine is considered a threat.

Pulling Patients Away

If you are uninsured and in need of primary care, are you more likely to choose the least expensive option available to you? Probably. If all other things are equal, your inclination is to go with the solution that costs the least. That is exactly why retail medicine is considered a threat by traditional healthcare.

Retail medicine pulls patients away from primary care offices. It also pulls them away from urgent care and after-hours clinics. And it is not just the uninsured who use them. Even insured patients that do not want to deal with the hassles of visiting a primary care office are more willing to look at retail medicine.

If retail medicine is a genuine threat, it is a financial threat. Perhaps it is time for traditional healthcare providers to start competing for business rather than relying on a monopoly they no longer have.