August 25, 2005

Retailers have a role in health care system

  • The opportunity is huge, varied and largely untapped
    Callison Architecture


    I've long believed that retailers can profit by serving consumers with chronic health issues.

    Consider the numbers. The American Cancer Society estimates more than 1.37 million people will be diagnosed with cancer this year. The good news is that increasing numbers of people with the disease will live for years after diagnosis.

    Nearly 20 million people have diabetes, a number expected to exceed 48 million by 2050, while 40 percent of the population has cholesterol high enough to put them at risk for heart disease.

    All these people, and many others with chronic conditions, have diagnosis-related needs that aren't met by the health care system. As a result, millions of consumers must turn elsewhere for the information, products and services they need.

    Today, people with health problems need to participate in their own care. That's good — research shows that people who take an active role in their healing have better outcomes.

    Boomers won't just medicate — they'll meditate, exercise, eat and shop their way to health and well-being.

    But often, the health care system is ill-equipped to support their advice: lose 15 pounds (how?), exercise more (when? where?), change your diet (how much?), monitor your glucose (with what?), give yourself these shots (help!).

    The opportunity for retailers to fill in the gaps is huge, varied and largely untapped.

    Meeting unmet needs

    Exploit cancer? Take advantage of someone's heart attack? How crass. Or is it? These are people whose coping skills may be severely diminished. Most would be grateful to find convenient, customized help — and so would the friends and family who often find themselves on the front lines of their loved ones' care.

    Most would not feel exploited, they'd feel relieved to find the needles and swabs, the non-metallic deodorant and other treatment-related supplies at a welcoming, hospital-based "Cancer Patient" store served by knowledgeable staff — and glad not to have to purchase them in hospital-size quantities.

    Women would appreciate shopping for pretty, post-surgery lingerie, or trying on headscarves and wigs in an intimate, uplifting environment. Imagine browsing for books on alternative therapies or grabbing a healthy snack after that daily radiation appointment (think captive consumers with many unmet needs) — if there were such places to do so on the hospital campus.

    In short, most of us would patronize any retailer who thoughtfully crafted a sensitive experience based on our needs as cancer patients — or your sister's as a diabetic, your dad's as a heart patient or your own as a person with high blood pressure and borderline cholesterol. Especially if this thoughtful retailing were found on the health care campus.

    This is not a call for aisles lined with crutches, bedpans and blood pressure cuffs (although that's part of it). This is a wake-up call: the fragmented nature of today's health care system leaves gaping holes in the marketplace that retailers — with their ability to pre-package goods and services in an appealing and healing environment — are best equipped to fill, whether it's with books and music, medical devices and vitamins or food and fitness advice.

    Building a business case

    At Callison, our health care and retail teams have been studying ways to create carefully merchandised retail experiences designed for various clinical diagnoses to be located on or near the hospital campus. For one health care client, we developed scenarios that integrate retail offerings on campus as part of a long-term strategy to become a regional hub for cardiac and orthopedic care.

    We're also exploring the business case from the retailers' perspective. One model to learn from is transportation retail, which also serves a specialized and — not unlike patients in a health care setting — temporarily captive demographic.

    Many retailers, including Victoria's Secret and Borders, have found success with a modified format in airports, while others, like Massage Bar, have created new concepts specifically for travelers. Similarly, a store like Relax the Back might do well to consider a location on or near a hospital with an orthopedic specialty.

    A "Cancer Patient" store could conveniently serve the 70,000 people who will have their cancer treated at Houston's M.D. Anderson this year — people who would likely also shop at a Barnes and Noble that was modified to address cancer issues.

    Three-way win

    We see this as a three-way win: retailers gain market share through new concept and channel opportunities, health care providers boost brand awareness while potentially adding lease revenues, and patients, of course win biggest of all — finding sensitive, convenient and useful help that simplifies their lives at a time when they need it most.

    Our health care system is in crisis. Traditional retail channels are saturated. And 78 million baby boomers are getting old, despite all efforts to the contrary.

    The time for retail health has come. Increasingly, American consumers will be managing chronic conditions, trying out new hips and knees or undergoing chemotherapy, radiation or open-heart surgery. And they won't do it the way their parents did. Boomers won't just medicate, they'll meditate, exercise, eat and shop their way to health and well-being — just as soon retailers and health care providers get together and give them places to do it.

    Janet Faulkner is a principal at Callison Architecture.

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