Retail, Tech, and Traditional Healthcare: Competition or Course Correction?


Should traditional healthcare be afraid of the retail and big tech competition, or can they take what's working and adapt?

It seemed a given that “Big Tech” would completely take over healthcare in the U.S., using data as the figurative magic pill to transform the system. And retail seemed poised to continue to snip away at traditional healthcare’s coverage by installing healthcare clinics in their never-far-away stores for the ultimate convenience.

But even with mergers and takeovers and more technology woven into all aspects of healthcare, most people still see a doctor – literally see them, in person – at hospitals and clinics that operate in many of the same ways they did decades ago.

So is the threat of tech and retail takeover just that, a threat that isn’t materializing? Should hospitals and clinics rest easy and keep doing what they’re doing? Or has it taken some time for technology and retail companies to get ready for a true takeover? 

Is Healthcare Blockbuster or a Bookstore?

As healthcare executives analyze the ever-changing landscape, they’re looking for indicators to show: is this a situation like Netflix and Blockbuster, for example, where one business model crushes the other? Or is it more like Amazon and bookstores, where one impacts the other, but they find a way to co-exist?

Retail companies certainly continue to make headway into healthcare. From clinics inside big retailers like Target, to neighborhood retailers like Walgreens, the global pandemic made the benefits of convenience clear. After all, if you can get vaccines and healthcare products in the same place, doesn’t it make sense to get your routine healthcare there, too? Especially for working parents, tackling common childhood illnesses like strep throat or pink eye with a quick diagnosis and prescriptions in one location is a tough combination to beat.

While the retail trend continues to grow, another one is also gathering force. Technology companies are purchasing healthcare companies to leapfrog forward. From Apple to Amazon, it seems like the wave of buying to enter and gain market share will inevitably sweep traditional healthcare away.

With two potent forces converging on traditional healthcare, what’s the right response?

Learn from Your Competitors

What do all of these companies have in common, whether big tech or big retail?

They offer convenience and great experiences— experiences consumers have come to expect and demand in most aspects of their life. They know what to offer based on understanding what customers want.

“…convenience is sticky and habit forming. Technology and retail companies like Amazon, Walmart and CVS are obsessed with convenience. It’s their main ingredient to attracting and retaining consumers like you and me. So when you think about visiting the doctor or the hospital, does convenience come to mind? Probably not. There are redundant paper forms, unclear procedures and poor care navigation to contend with. So software ate the world, AI is eating software and at each step, convenience was key. Is this convenience really enough for retail and tech to eat healthcare? And if so, how can healthcare leaders respond to this?” 1

- Chris Hemphill, VP of Applied AI and Growth, Actium Health

Put the Customer First

Both retail and technology companies study their customers. Not just in relation to their own product or service, but their lifestyle. That’s why you’ve heard the phrase “the soccer mom,” even if the product being sold has nothing to do with soccer. The learning is all around how a product fits into the lifestyle of a parent constantly on the go taking kids to and from sports and school. When companies can answer that, they know how to appeal to that person. Is it food your kid can heat up themselves in the microwave? Or healthy food they can eat in the car without making a mess? Those product advances come from understanding what matters to the customer, using data to produce insights.

Traditional healthcare providers typically don't invest in studying their patients and customers that way. In an episode of Hello Healthcare 1, Carrie Liken of Yext talks about where traditional healthcare focuses, versus their competitors. “I don’t think that health systems are thinking first about the patient. They’re thinking about themselves, the system, and they’re thinking about the providers. Netflix is thinking about the viewers. Amazon is thinking about the customer. CVS is thinking about the customer.”

What traditional healthcare can learn from the competition is to move the customer-first mindset from intention to action.

Build on the Healthcare Advantages

Consistency = Convenience

Doctor talking to patient in traditional healthcare setting

One huge advantage healthcare can offer is continuity of care. You can see the same primary care doctor each time you go to a clinic, while in a retail setting, for example, that’s unlikely. So yes, convenience in the moment may motivate many decisions (I can go to the clinic and get groceries at the same place), but the ultimate convenience in time and stress is working with someone who knows you and has full access to your medical history. You may not remember a concern you mentioned to your doctor a year ago, but it will be in their notes. You may not know what your last blood pressure reading was, but it’ll be right there for your provider — if you’re at your healthcare clinic. 

Knowledge Can Be Power

Another key healthcare advantage: access to information — life-changing information. Not about your brand of toothpaste, but about your health and wellness.  Healthcare could leapfrog ahead by using that knowledge to show customers that they know them. They know who’s at risk of diabetes. They know who needs a mammogram. They know who hasn’t had a wellness visit in years. 

Healthcare needs to put that knowledge to good use through proactive communications based on insights. Think of how many retail websites and apps make proactive recommendations about what we might like as consumers. Yes, it’s nice to know my favorite author has a new book available, but it’s not life changing. But if my healthcare provider reaches out and says I’m overdue for a mammogram, and I make an appointment where they find stage 1 cancer – that truly does change my life.

How can healthcare do that? The big retailers and software companies don’t use past purchase behavior alone to predict future needs: they add artificial intelligence (AI) to the data to create insights. Those insights then turn into the prompts you see on their website and even the emails you get suggesting a future purchase.

Healthcare can do the same: the key is to harness the power of the data, like electronic medical records (EMRs) and customer relationship management (CRM) systems, by adding insights to that data as well as proactive outreach capabilities.

Your EMR may know who’s due for an annual wellness visit and can send an email reminder. That can work, to a degree. If you amplify the data in EMR by adding a CRM intelligence solution, you can:

  • Prioritize patients based on propensity
  • Throttle outreach to patients to fill appointments predictably (without overwhelming staff or the system) 
  • Send text messages, which have a much higher response rate, to make it easy for patients to see the message and respond
Healthcare SMS response rate stat
80% of people want to receive SMS messages

It’s like a retailer knowing you stock up on zinc every November and sending you one postcard reminder, versus sending you a text message with a link to get the product shipped to you. Imagine that same system tied to inventory, so it stops sending messages if the supply of zinc is low. CRM intelligence can do the same thing, by throttling outreach based on your system’s appointment inventory.

Healthcare Can Beat the Retail and Big Tech Competition

Healthcare needs to combine its data with intelligence to drive action. If it does, healthcare systems can be the most customer-first organizations in any consumer’s life, besting retail or technology with more meaningful information.

By doing what it does best – delivering the right care at the right time – and learning from the competition to turn data into insights and then action, healthcare can withstand the challengers, and in fact, surpass them at putting the customer first.

See how Actium can take what you already know about your customers and turn that into a patient-first approach. Contact us to see a demo.

Moving Beyond Traditional Healthcare CRM


[1] "Will Tech & Retail Eat Healthcare?," Hello Heathcare Podcast
[2] What Data Tells Us About The State Of Patient Engagement
[3] FICO Global Survey: 80% of Smartphone Users Interested in Health Care Alert