How Retail Partnerships Can Improve Health Equity and Access to Care

How Retail Partnerships Can Improve Health Equity And Access To Care Web

Sarah and her growing family reside in rural New Mexico, in a town with few amenities: a brand-name grocery and household retailer, a local pharmacy, and a primary care office with one provider. The primary care office is part of a health system that is a two-hour drive away.

Sarah’s children require their annual wellness visits. Since the primary care practice has limited access and there are no consecutive scheduling slots available for her four children, Sarah must schedule appointments on separate days and ask for additional time off work. The family has no medical insurance, because Sarah works two part-time jobs and is not eligible for family healthcare benefits. The out-of-pocket costs for wellness visits are expensive, and Sarah frequently forgoes her own care to financially save for her children’s healthcare needs.

But what other options does she and her family have to receive affordable, accessible care in their small town?

When it comes to on-demand services, healthcare continues to lag behind other industries. In-person treatments and services are still limited by an individual’s physical location, the day of the week, or ability to access care (e.g., telemedicine may not be an option for individuals who are not technologically savvy). By contrast, big-box retailers have a far-reaching geographic presence and extended hours, which make them extremely accessible and hyper-consumer centric.

Building on the strength of these features, some big-box retailers are becoming more active providers of health services (e.g., primary or urgent care). Retailers such as Walmart and Walgreens, which drive tremendous foot traffic to their brick-and-mortar locations, are aggressively investing in retail medicine and becoming direct competitors to existing ambulatory clinics.

But along with that competitive threat is an opportunity for health systems and physician clinics to better serve their patients by partnering with these retailers. A retail partnership strategy can help healthcare organizations expand access while addressing changing consumer expectations about care delivery.


The growing consumerism of the past decade has strengthened consumers’ power and voice. Consumers now have access to meal and grocery delivery services, transportation services via mobile application, and an abundance of other direct-to-consumer services. Expectations in the healthcare space are no different. Consumers want “health on demand,” with one-stop access and simple logistics.

Providing such an experience typically requires healthcare organizations to become embedded in their patients’ local communities. But health systems encounter several familiar obstacles when trying to establish a physical presence in far-flung geographies:

  • Recruiting and retaining providers to work in rural areas is difficult.
  • Unfavorable economies of scale make efficient staffing a challenge, which contributes to high fixed costs.

Big-box retailers don’t face the same constraints, making them attractive partners for healthcare providers.

  • These retailers are heavily engaged in an individual’s day-to-day activities, making them ideal locations to offer primary and urgent healthcare services.
  • The locations already have large, existing shares in grocery or home goods, which leads to high, consistent consumer foot traffic and equitable access.
  • A retail-medicine partnership offers efficiency and convenience. For example, a customer can pick up their monthly medication at their local retailer, schedule their flu vaccination, and shop for groceries, all in one trip.

More Data Means More-Personalized Care

Health plan revenues are substantially affected by many unique factors that apply to particular LOBs, whether those factors are established by state regulators or government programs or are related to market conditions.

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