From Checkout Lines to Waiting Rooms: Retail's Influence on Healthcare

What if healthcare facilities could integrate the efficiency and convenience found in retail?

By Al Thompson, Contributing Writer

In today’s fast-paced world, the retail sector has mastered the art of efficiency, engagement and customer satisfaction, setting a gold standard that many industries aspire to emulate. In recent years, healthcare has increasingly shifted toward a more hospitality-inspired model that emphasizes comfort and the quality of visitor experience. While these elements are essential to successful operations, the industry still could benefit tremendously from the strategies implemented across the retail sector. 

It is not uncommon to encounter long wait times and often disorganized scheduling that frazzles patients and staff. What if healthcare facilities could integrate the efficiency and convenience found in retail? Imagine a scenario where doctor’s visits are as straightforward and stress-free as picking up morning coffee. 

Much like consumers, patients seek a hassle-free experience that centers on their needs. The challenge is creating a patient-centric healthcare environment that is technologically advanced and responsive to change. These spaces not only must facilitate medical care. They also must embody the ethos of the institution while elevating the patient journey to keep them comfortable and satisfied with the care they receive. 

Patient-centric approach 

The retail industry’s success hinges on its deep commitment to the customer, where each experience must be efficient and personalized. While healthcare’s challenges are distinct, it can benefit immensely from this customer-first mindset. By actively seeking feedback, much like retailers’ market research, healthcare providers can pinpoint areas for improvement, from administrative processes to the comfort of the physical environment for patients. 

Just as retailers prioritize prime locations for maximum foot traffic, healthcare providers must opt for easily accessible locations, making healthcare as convenient as a trip to a local bank or grocery store. The digital revolution in retail, which transformed shopping experiences, can serve as a model for healthcare. 

Integrating similar technologies – including real-time appointment updates or cross-compatible online customer database systems – can drastically reduce administrative burdens and wait times, elevating patient satisfaction. By adopting retail’s customer-centric approach, healthcare facilities can create experiences that are medically proficient, emotionally comforting and efficiently streamlined 

Blending care and convenience 

Healthcare is undergoing a major shift that goes beyond simply borrowing from retail tactics. The shift involves rethinking the essence of healthcare to make the patient experience just as important as medical excellence. 

One of the most promising avenues for optimizing convenience and accessibility is the rise of multi-functional healthcare spaces. Various medical practices could be housed under one roof so patients no longer need to traverse multiple locations for different specialists. A patient’s care team is available at one accessible point, much like a shopping mall that caters to the diverse needs of a large consumer market. This approach not only simplifies the patient experience but also underscores the importance of work-life balance for both healthcare providers and patients. 

Ambulatory care practices locating in downtown storefronts likely will have a positive effect on downtown retail by increasing foot traffic to Main Street. With the retail-inspired model, visits become quick and efficient, eliminating the need for half-day commitments. 

This efficiency also benefits healthcare professionals because it allows them to see more patients without the strain of schedule backlogs. Real-time technology updates, such as a notification about a doctor running behind schedule, further reduce unnecessary wait times, ensuring patients are not left in the dark. 

The digital revolution also is set to play an even more significant role when it comes to care. Beyond appointment scheduling and reminders, we might see the rise of AI-driven diagnostic tools, virtual reality-based therapy sessions and even augmented reality tools to enhance patient education. These innovations will simplify processes and make healthcare more interactive and patient friendly. 

Advantages of the retail model 

The transformative approach of integrating retail principles into healthcare brings many tangible benefits that resonate with patients and healthcare providers. Healthcare facilities can offer more efficient and patient-focused visits that meet service standards by embracing the same principles used in the retail sector. This approach translates to reduced wait times and environments that prioritize patient comfort. 

Integrating digital tools inspired by retail operations also leads to optimized scheduling. The result is twofold: Patients benefit from timely appointments and reduced waiting periods, and healthcare providers find their operations less chaotic and more manageable. This patient flow enhances satisfaction and allows providers to see more patients. 

Staff is not constantly backed up due to scheduling hiccups, and real-time technology updates inform patients if a doctor is running behind, ensuring they are not left waiting unnecessarily. This strategy ensures healthcare staff can work in a more organized setting from the front desk to the examination room. The ripple effect of this efficiency is significant because it reduces workplace stress and, in turn, elevates the quality of patient care. 

Another notable advantage is the potential for elevated brand loyalty. In the same vein that retail customers gravitate toward brands offering superior experiences, patients are likely to show loyalty to healthcare facilities that prioritize their needs and comfort. This approach boosts patient retention and can amplify positive referrals, enhancing a facility's reputation. 

Lastly, while the shift to a patient-focused and retail-inspired model might require initial investments, especially in technology and infrastructure, the long-term view is promising. Streamlined operations, fewer patient no-shows and better use of staff time can lead to notable cost efficiencies. By embracing the best of the retail world, healthcare does not just evolve. It sets a new gold standard, embodying care in every interaction and touchpoint. 

Embracing a new paradigm 

Integrating the retail model into healthcare is more than just merging two industries. It is a visionary step forward that redefines the essence of patient care. This integration offers numerous advantages, ranging from improved patient experiences to greater operational efficiency. Beyond these tangible advantages lies a more profound transformation: a shift in perspective that places patients at the heart of the healthcare ecosystem, much like customers in the retail world. 

While challenges exist, the promise of a healthcare system that is efficient and empathetic is an aspiration worth pursuing. In this endeavor, the lessons from retail illuminate the path to a more patient-centric, efficient and compassionate healthcare future. 

Al Thompson is managing executive and studio director with TPG Architecture in its Long Island office. 

November 1, 2023

Topic Area: Construction

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