Dec 19, 2023



How Health Systems Can Thrive as Retail Clinics Rise

Retail healthcare is shaking up the industry—here’s how traditional health systems can adapt and stay competitive.

Amazon, CVS, Costco, Walmart—many customers associate these brands with weekly grocery runs, last-minute gift purchases, and quick prescription refills. However, these retail giants are also investing in primary care clinics, omnichannel communication strategies, and personalized healthcare experiences that put pressure on health systems nationwide.

It doesn’t help that labor shortages, inflation, increased supply costs, and lower volumes paired with higher acuity are currently posing challenges to the healthcare industry. A recent poll of U.S. adults found that 60% gave U.S. healthcare a C grade or lower, with 73% stating that the healthcare system was not meeting their needs. In the same study, 66% of patients said they’ve noticed that doctors seem more rushed than in the past, with 47% thinking that their physician appeared burned out or overwhelmed. 

With consumers feeling the impacts of health system inefficiencies when they visit their doctor, it becomes more tempting for them to find alternative healthcare options that are convenient, fast, and personable. As such, traditional health systems must adapt swiftly to the emerging retail competitors already offering value-based care that addresses unmet needs. These big brands are expected to capture 30% of primary care by 2030—a number that’s particularly worrying as primary care is a significant referral source for other specialties at hospitals. So, how can your health system best compete? The secret is through collaboration, a focus on the patient experience, and a digital upgrade that enhances your health system’s strengths.

Understanding the Competitive Landscape

To ensure informed marketing decisions, it’s important to scope the existing healthcare landscape and analyze how these new retail competitors are shaking up consumer preferences. Customers are already accustomed to brands like Amazon, Walgreens, and Costco. Adding health clinics and services in these stores transforms these companies into convenient “one-stop shops” where consumers can take care of their basic errands in one place. Familiarity with these big-box stores and drugstore chains also makes marketing easier, as these brands can simply extend their new health offerings to consumers as they become available.

The good news is that retail healthcare is still relatively new, so healthcare consumers may not immediately gravitate to a store where they purchase home goods and food for medical care. Nonetheless, these competitors are already impacting traditional healthcare in pivotal ways:

Winning Patients

Retail healthcare clinics are increasingly expanding in areas typically underserviced by health systems. For instance, Walmart introduced its retail clinic presence into rural medical deserts. Dollar General has partnered with New York-based mobile medical services company DocGo to deploy mobile clinics in underserved areas. Even so, for the same reasons many health systems are reluctant to operate in rural areas, such as workforce challenges due to low populations, retail clinics are still more likely to be located—and competing—in major metropolitan areas.

Retail healthcare clinics can leverage advanced analytics and machine learning algorithms to help them analyze patient data to predict health risks, recommend preventive measures, and offer customized treatment plans. Similarly, some competitors, such as Best Buy and Geisinger, leverage their technology and home services capabilities to expand into chronic disease remote monitoring. For patients who want to take a more proactive approach to care, wellness and coaching programs are also available at some retail clinics to encourage consumers to take control of their health.

Scaling Businesses

Retail behemoths have the resources to scale business as needed, allowing them to adapt quickly to shifting consumer demand. For instance, Amazon closed a $3.9 billion acquisition of primary care chain One Medical and bought Pillpack for $750 million to quickly—and significantly—ramp up its healthcare business.

Additionally, retail competitors are recruiting and employing a diverse staff of pharmacists, nurses, primary care physicians, and more to help reduce wait times and provide customized care when consumers need it. Not only that, but they’re keeping patients connected with these doctors and encouraging remote engagement through device integration, where consumers can use smart wearables, mobile apps, and home monitoring devices to update their electronic health records in real-time.

Deploying Innovations

If consumers aren’t in stores, they’re on their mobile devices—and retail clinics are taking advantage of this behavior to better connect with potential patients by merging technology with personal care in a way that’s familiar and user-friendly for consumers:

As a result, traditional health systems should stay informed on industry trends and competitor activities to build strategies that will address lingering patient needs and keep them coming back to your brand for care.

How to Leverage Your Existing Strengths

While competition in the healthcare space is intensifying, traditional healthcare systems have strengths that differentiate them from retail competitors. Hospitals tend to have long-established reputations, expertise, and more extensive offerings compared to small clinics with a limited variety of specialists and staff. Hospitals are also typically integrated into the community better than a faceless global brand. Therefore, promote these qualities and awards when advertising your health system to consumers. For example, if your health system is known for giving back to the community through fundraisers or awareness events like marathons, highlight this in your next campaign to generate more consumer involvement with your brand. Share patient stories that showcase your long history in the community, and emphasize the convenience of working with a team of specialists within one brand to address patient needs efficiently.

Take inspiration from the following institutions. They tapped into their unique strengths and allowed their reputation and offerings to precede themselves in a way that retail clinics can’t compete with.

  • Valley Health released its “Here’s to You” campaign over the summer, capturing the strength and resilience of its teams and local community that pushed them through the recent years of COVID and staffing stress.
  • Allina Health’s award-winning “Right Next to You” campaign positions the health system as the right partner for various health needs throughout one’s life journey.
  • Duke made it personal with its new ad campaign. By highlighting its teams and what drives them to do the amazing things they do every day, Duke hopes to inspire its staff and encourage them to feel proud of themselves, their teammates, and their roles.
  • New York-Presbyterian Hospital created a “Patient Stories” series. In showcasing the real-life experiences of patients who received care at the hospital, the health system sparks an emotional connection with its audience and effectively captures the essence of its compassionate and patient-centered approach. 
  • Northwell Health created a memorable ad that aligned its brand with generational legacy—it grows alongside its patients and their family members while they navigate through all stages of their life journey.

After analyzing what your health system does well, incorporate these strengths into your marketing strategy to show consumers that your brand can offer what retail clinics have and far more.

  1. Enhance the Patient Experience

In any healthcare setting, the patient experience should be a leading priority. Highlight ease of access with the following:

  • Implement digital tools such as patient portals and telemedicine platforms so patients can access their health information and connect with healthcare professionals on their own time. 
  • Online appointment scheduling can help reduce wait times on the phone and in the lobby, streamlining check-in processes that consumers can jumpstart on their own. 
  • Invest in messaging systems and AI-powered communication platforms to address commonly asked questions.
  • Deploy regular newsletters and social media updates on advancements and innovations within your health system to keep patients informed and excited about what’s to come.

Remember, patients increasingly expect their interactions with health systems to be fast, convenient, and personalized—and preferably digital. In fact, a study by L&T Technology Services found that 75% of patients would switch doctors if they didn’t offer digital services like telehealth, mobile health apps, and more. 

  1. Embrace Digital Transformation

With retail clinics fulfilling consumer demand for digital tools and convenience, your health system should consider undergoing a digital transformation to keep up. Therefore, find ways to digitize operations to make healthcare more transparent and accessible for patients. Let patients know you have an online appointment scheduling tool so that they can view doctor availability in real-time, for example. Or promote remote consultations to extend care and help them find a doctor they can connect with. Adding office hours to physician profiles can increase conversion by 16%1, and partnering with third-party sites like can make it even easier for consumers to find a doctor in your system and schedule an appointment.

Bottom line: If there’s an area of your health system that can be streamlined, try to find a digital solution to make things easier for medical staff and patients and promote it widely. It’s what Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, among many other hospitals nationwide, did during COVID-19—they provided telehealth options to continue providing care while ensuring patient and physician safety.

  1. Collaborating with Retail Partners

Sometimes, the best way to thrive amidst the competition is to work alongside them. Consider partnering with retailers to deliver an enriched patient experience that expands the reach of both your brand and the company you collaborate with. By aligning available resources, both health systems and retail partners can offer integrated solutions that cater to patients’ diverse needs, such as: 

  • Increased staffing and infrastructure support.
  • More service lines with strong referral potential.
  • Expanded clinical operations.

For instance, Northwell Health signed a five-year contract with Walgreens to expand digital health services for consumers in New York state. Meanwhile, New York City-based Mount Sinai Health System works with Instacart to deliver groceries for post-operative and post-partum patients, and Atrium Health has aligned with Best Buy to launch a hospital-at-home program.

So, if you find an opportunity for your health system to work with a retail clinic, don’t hesitate to reach out and brainstorm ways a partnership can benefit your brand and your patients.

Thrive Amidst New Competition with Healthgrades

While business is booming for retail healthcare clinics, traditional health systems offer an experience unmatched by these new industry competitors. Although retail clinics are convenient and easily accessible, the patient experience may still feel transactional in a setting where everyday products line up shelves in the next room. To adapt to emerging shifts caused by these new competitors, health systems should embrace innovation, humanize outreach, engage with loyal patients, and keep an eye on industry trends. Another way health systems can stay ahead of the competition? Leverage Healthgrades’ Advertising Solutions for Health Systems.

We offer a comprehensive suite of solutions designed to connect with the right consumers right before they make an appointment. As America’s leading platform for facilitating doctor-patient connections, offers increased visibility to your brand, with our solutions taking your brand presence a step further with prominent branding and compelling calls to action throughout our site. We’ll also help you attract commercially insured patients to key service lines and amplify the margins. Because retail clinics are largely focused on primary care, it’s all the more important that health systems make it easy to convert when someone is ready for specialty care.

In addition, our syndication network can extend your brand’s reach to our partner sites, providing a seamless user experience that reaches consumers wherever they may be. Access to appointments may not always be readily available or easy to find—particularly for primary care—and Healthgrades can help ensure that alternatives from your health system are surfaced when a doctor isn’t accepting new patients.

Healthgrades’ competitive intercept feature also allows you to showcase your medical staff as alternatives directly on competitor physician profiles to keep your health system top-of-mind for consumers. Plus, we enable you to integrate online appointment scheduling for in-person and telehealth services directly into your health system’s profile for easy conversions.

Ready for a competitive edge? Chat with us today to take the next step in health system marketing.

1 Healthgrades Analytics 2022