Retail Clinics Are, Helping To Ignite Better Patient Engagement


Tashfeen Ekram, MD

More than 2,000 retail clinics have made their entry into the healthcare market as giants including CVS, Walgreens. and Walmart have become key players in the industry. The services they offer are meeting consumers’ growing demand for immediate and easy access to care. This is putting pressure on traditional health care providers to rethink how they engage, attract and retain patients within their own clinics. As patients, we continually have to pay more for the same health care services, and as a result, we’re exercising more control over our health care decisions and conducting greater research to identify the providers that fit our needs.

Tashfeen Ekram, MD

The success of these retail clinics is similar to what drives the winners in most markets: location and access. Consumers want to be able to make appointments online, reschedule with one click, ask questions and communicate with their care team the same way they do throughout their personal and business life via mobile devices. Retail clinics have done an excellent job of meeting these consumer requirements.

For executives and providers in traditional health care settings, the growth of retail clinics has become a forcing function of how they respond to patient demands in order to retain and grow their own market share. In this new reality, the advent of patient engagement technologies is empowering these traditional providers to interact with consumers on their terms and in the manner to which they have become accustomed to with other consumer brands. Increasingly, providers are looking to mobile-first solutions as a competitive lever to drive patient access, facilitate patient communication, and help grow their business.

For example, mobile-based scheduling now allows patients to confirm or reschedule upcoming appointments via text message while allowing providers to keep closer track of patient capacity by reducing no-shows and cancellations. This completely transforms the existing yet frustrating practice of multiple voice mails and phone tag, ignored emails, and a general lack of patient–provider communications outside of the office visit.

Similarly, new secure messaging capabilities between patients and care teams empower patients with the tools they need to be engaged in their care. With these solutions in place, a patient can ask their provider important questions before and after procedures via text. This allows physicians to interact with patients on an ongoing basis to better alert and guide them in their overall healthcare journey.

Through the power of automated texting, health care clinics can provide personalized patient experiences where previously there might have been zero engagement. Without increasing staffing or other resources, two-way bot technology has enabled physicians to improve and increase their patient interactions. This bot-driven automated text messaging allows physicians to deliver a greater amount of attention and care on a consistent basis while making the office visit more informed and productive.

Nearly all (95%) of Americans own a mobile phone. A similarly large proportion (90%) read text messages within the first three minutes of receiving them. For many, such as those who might be in remote areas where specialty clinics are scarce, seamless access to care is not just a matter of convenience, but the difference between receiving care or not, and modern communications solutions can ensure that access is available in the required timeframe.

For those with chronic conditions, EHR-integrated patient texting allows physicians to automate outreach to high-risk patients to help them improve their self-management practices. It’s a matter of improving digital health capabilities, and by leveraging the devices and channels with which most have access, significant improvements can be made.

The growing number of health care players has the potential to ignite better care and patient engagement. Retail clinics may continue to grow in popularity, but this will force traditional health care providers to examine the unique value they deliver to their patients and how they can use new healthcare technology solutions and services to enhance this value. This way they can differentiate themselves from the new players in the market and better serve their patients’ needs.

Tashfeen Ekram, MD, is co-founder and chief medical officer of Luma Health, a San Francisco startup developing patient engagement platforms.

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