The pandemic has been a major driver in the increase of walk-in retail health clinics. Health Clinics in retail stores were already on the rise due to the cost of healthcare and the growing numbers of the uninsured and underinsured Americans prior to the pandemic. Patients with higher deductibles were already seeking out reduced cost healthcare options. Health clinics in retail settings were being seen as a viable option for routine care. It is estimated that 31 million Americans were uninsured in 2020 and the numbers of Americans uninsured is increasing with high unemployment due to the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic 73.7% of those who were uninsured said it was due to affordability. Pre-pandemic the uninsured used the emergency room for the healthcare much more frequently than the insured even though emergency room care is the most expensive option for receiving medical care. The pandemic made this a much less desirable option because hospitals treat the most severe cases of the highly contagious COVID-19 virus.
The Value proposition of retail clinics inside drug stores and retail stores has increased during the COVID-19 crisis. There has always been a risk of becoming ill due to exposure to contagious illness by other patients or cross contamination when you are treated at a doctor’s appointment or go to the hospital. The public has become much more concerned about these issues because COVID-19 is much more contagious than other viruses or flus that we have dealt with in the past. In March of 2020, routine cancer screenings went down by 86%-94%. Routine healthcare and screenings were put on hold by people throughout 2020. Routine care decreased by 4-5% in doctor’s offices and ambulatory care settings in 2020. The problem with a decrease in utilization of routine medical services and screenings is that illnesses will not be detected as early which results in higher costs of treatment and poorer outcomes.
President Joe Biden’s public health response to COVID-19 is calling for elimination of any and all cost barriers to preventative care and for treatment of COVID-19. He is committed to the support of vulnerable populations, such as older adults and people with disabilities. A key part of his plan is ensuring a wide availability of free COVID-19 testing sights for all Americans. His plan focuses on providing health care in home and through community-based services so that all Americans receive appropriate care without barriers. President Biden believes that as we are responding to this crisis, we should also be preparing for the next public health crisis. Retail health clinics fit perfectly into his plan.
For most of 2020 and now in 2021 public health officials have been warning people to only leave their homes when it is essential in order to control the spread of COVID-19. New more contagious variances are currently increasing the risk of COVID-19 infections. Cost and risk of infection are barriers to well care for many Americans in this pandemic era. When Pharmacies like CVS and Retail stores like Walmart and Target have medical clinics, it lowers both the cost of the care and the risk of being exposed to the virus by allowing you to engage in 2 or more essential services while only leaving home and visiting just one location. At a pharmacy with a wellness clinic you can pick up your medicines and have a health screening at the same time. At Walmart you can do your grocery shopping, buy some new clothing, pick up supplies for a home project and get medical care too. Retail health clinics are much more convenient, efficient, and a more effective way to provide routine healthcare screenings than the traditional doctor’s offices or hospital emergency rooms. It is likely that the utilization of retail clinics will continue to expand long after the pandemic is under control.
The COVID-19 crisis is a globally shared moment in time that will change us forever. People around the globe have become more aware of how important their behaviors and choices are in promoting either wellness or illness during the pandemic. Washing hands, wearing masks, and socially distancing are key behaviors that can determine if you become ill and slow or stop the spread of the virus. These actions are not related to seeing a doctor or taking a prescribed medication. These are tiny habits that promote wellness. Those at highest risk for this virus are those who have heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity and smoke. These illnesses are linked to individual’s lifestyle choices and habits. Wendy Liebmann, CEO, WSL Strategic Retail, said that “What this pandemic has revealed is that taking care and control of your own health — individual, family, home, etc. — is even more critical than before.” One of the few positive outcomes of the pandemic will probably be the empowerment of individuals to take responsibility for their own health and wellness.
Consumers are pushing the health system and retailers to create new convenient solutions for health and wellness promotion. In addition, to retail clinics, we are seeing how effective creating testing centers in parking lots can be. Sports stadiums are now becoming very popular mass vaccination hubs. Pharmacies are also providing COVID-19 vaccinations to increase access in local communities. There was a 154% increase in telehealth services in 2020. Telehealth is so helpful for the elderly who may have transportation limitations, people living in rural areas with fewer care providers, and people living in poverty, who often lack providers in their community and transportation. In 2019, IRI’s Self Care Study reported that 45% of consumers were increasing their purchases of nutritional supplements to support their immune systems prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The study also found that 66% of those who participated in the study planned to change their behaviors long-term with a greater focus on better hygiene, health and wellness habits. Data from the NMI shows an increase of 28% in vitamin and supplement usage in the United States during the pandemic and a 25% increase around the world. People around the globe are making a change in their perception of wellness and taking action to change their lifestyle habits to live well in a sick world.
Amazon, Google and Apple have been moving into the healthcare arena for some time with online products that support wellness. Nikken, a global wellness influencer, and other companies in the wellness industry, provide high quality wellness products and organic nutritional supplements online that are delivered directly to the consumer to support vital wellness. Two thirds of adults in the United States take multivitamins and supplements. When surveyed 60% of those taking supplements said they had increased their usage during the pandemic. Purchasing health and wellness products on-line for home delivery is a safer more convenient way to support your health and having a subscription prevents running out of your supplements.
Moving forward it is likely that survival will be the major focus in health and wellness decisions. The Lancet published an article by health researchers in 2009 that defined health as “the ability of a body to adapt to new threats and infirmities.” Healthcare in and after the pandemic might be defined as a system that provides education, treatment and tools to individuals and families in the most affordable, effective and convenient ways possible to promote the wellness of each person, so their bodies are resistant to and able to adapt to illness. The increase in retail clinics for well care, creation of mass popup clinics at nontraditional cites, increase in telehealth and Companies providing products and services directly to our homes are all examples of public, private, medical, retail and business worlds working together synergistically to promote health and wellness. Individuals are rising to this challenge by taking responsibility for their selfcare with better lifestyle choices. Prevention has not been the focus of wellness for many years, but the pandemic has changed that. COVID-19 has been the largest transformative change agent in healthcare.