Here's how retailers are changing the future of health care

Photo (c) SDI Productions - Getty Images

Experts say that for the most part, it's a 'healthy' trend

Increasingly, companies outside of the health care sector are offering health care services. You only have to look at retailers.

Amazon, CVS, Kroger, and Dollar General are just some of the retailers providing everything from insurance to treatment. Earlier this month, Best Buy – a company best known for selling appliances – jumped into health care with in-home hospital care.

Partnering with Atrium, Best Buy will provide the equipment needed to give some patients the care and treatment at home they would receive in a hospital. Under the agreement, the Geek Squad will install technology that remotely monitors their heart rate, blood oxygen level and other vital signs so that health care professionals can remotely access the data.

It’s part of the evolution of health care that Cathy Tie, CEO of Locke Bio, a digital health platform company, says will improve care and bring down costs.

More competition

“When consumers have more choices, companies have to work harder to stand out among the competition,” she told ConsumerAffairs. “It also forces companies to create more types of services, catering to more parts of the demographic.”

Tie says Best Buy’s "Hospital at Home" model is different than Amazon's approach of launching Amazon Clinics and digital prescription fulfillment. 

“Health care has always stood to benefit from more creativity, innovation, and technology, and I'm glad that we're finally seeing a real shift,” Tie said.

Dr. Dung Trinh, chief medical officer at Healthy Brain Clinic, believes retail-based health care can offer a convenient, affordable alternative to traditional care. For example, access to care is 24/7 and often doesn’t require an appointment. But he notes that some worry the convenience might come at the expense of quality care.

“The potential concerns of retail-based health care include a lack of oversight and control, less continuity of care, the inability to address complex medical issues, and the potential for conflicts of interest,” Trinh told us.

Welcome trend

Dr. Amy Roskin, chief medical officer at Seven Starling, a digital health platform, told us that the quality of care depends on the quality of the clinician and the nature of the health care organization. But she says she’s happy to see the trend.

“I think a very important issue here is access,” Roskin said. “If more people are able to access care from a trustworthy source, that's a good thing.”

None of the experts we consulted think the growing retail health care trend will replace the family doctor. They point out that some patients may not need ongoing care but many – especially those with chronic conditions – will. 

“I've seen many applications of technology in treating different medical conditions online, and my perspective is that there are certain things that have to be done with one consistent doctor that knows your medical history well,” Tie said.

While Best Buy’s move into health care might have been unexpected, chances are other companies are eying the sector as one that would not only expand their services but also increase profits.

“I wouldn't be surprised to see a company like Costco move in that direction,” Roskin told us. “They already have an existing structure with services like pharmacy, optical, and hearing tests.”

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