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Healthcare design: It's all about retail

Reading through healthcare design journals and conference agendas, you could think that healthcare was still about hospitality. But as far as outpatient or primary care goes, within the post-healthcare-reform landscape, the hospitality model may no longer fit or be relevant.

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Healthcare Design: It's All About Retail

In healthcare, change is inevitable and ongoing. While we still have to rely upon physically visiting physicians, retail is now the analogy for healthcare in the community.

Well, we in the healthcare design community got it wrong again!

Reading through healthcare design journals and conference agendas, you could think that healthcare was still about hospitality. But as far as outpatient or primary care goes, within the post-healthcare-reform landscape, the hospitality model may no longer fit or be relevant. Healthcare reform places an emphasis on outpatient and primary care. In thinking this through, that’s when the light bulb went on. Healthcare isn’t about hospitality. It’s about retail!

While healthcare providers are, of course, dedicated to providing the very best in patient experience, with the Affordable Care Act their priority is now even further focused upon providing affordable and accessible care. In the outpatient arena, competition is becoming fierce.

While hospitals have tended to be located within self-contained “campuses,” outpatient/primary care has to be located where the patient population lives, works, or shops. In addition, any new or upgraded facilities need to be designed and constructed in the shortest time possible and with the minimum amount of risk and cost.

Furthermore, where the world of hospitality (i.e., hotels) measures success by the length of stay of their “guests,” outpatient healthcare is about turn-around. Both the patient and the provider want to minimize the time spent – that is, to see their physician, receive the advice or treatment as needed, and then leave. Isn’t that retail?

The retail industry itself has gone through revolutionary changes in the last decade. As online shopping has begun to replace some previously established retail icons such as Borders bookstores and Blockbuster Video, shopping malls and brick-and-mortar retail outlets are rethinking their business models to focus upon enterprises that still rely upon the need for customers to physically visit a store to receive a service or make their purchase. For the time being, that is still the case for outpatient and primary healthcare.

We are seeing companies like Walgreens, Wal-Mart, and other pharmacy retail outlets giving flu shots, screening cholesterol levels, and other services typically performed by primary care outfits. These retailers have already started selling these services like other products at the store, moving into territory that was once firmly in the medical realm.

Some innovative healthcare providers have already sprung into action. In Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the local hospital network has built urgent care centers in the forecourt area of Sheetz gas stations. That is, quite literally, a retail operation. Other smart providers who recognize that these healthcare retail chains are becoming their competition have begun to join them and form alliances.

So what does this mean for the healthcare design community?

Retail has always been more advanced in brand recognition than healthcare. In terms of risk and cost, branding also equates to creating a formula and then repeating it multiple times which, in turn, reduces design and construction costs due to an economy of scale.

Healthcare providers will be thinking in the same terms. It will all be about location – curb appeal and a recognizable brand through a consistency of signage materials, finishes, and furniture, just like a retail chain.

When a new Starbucks pops up, there is a predesigned kit of parts for branding the space, which makes it look and feel like a Starbucks. Healthcare providers will want the same approach.

In healthcare, change is inevitable and ongoing. But I do see a major sea change as a result of the drive toward more affordable and accessible healthcare facilities.

While we still have to rely upon physically visiting physicians, retail is now the analogy for healthcare in the community. Healthcare reform in this perspective can be seen as disruptive technology (or disruptive legislation) in that it is radically affecting how each of us interacts with the health system. Once technology advances further, as it inevitably will, toward virtual physician visits then the need for even these healthcare buildings may one day disappear.

Authored by Martin Valins

It will all be about location – curb appeal and a recognizable brand through a consistency of signage materials, finishes, and furniture, just like a retail chain.

Where the world of hospitality (i.e., hotels) measures success by the length of stay of their “guests,” outpatient healthcare is about turn-around.

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