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How independent practices can thrive amid the growth of alternative care delivery settings

For private practices, competition is more than just the big health system or provider down the block. With more options for patients to choose from, here’s how practices can stand out.

From big tech to big retail, there are new entries in the healthcare industry each month, and competition for market share is heating up. With U.S. healthcare spending up to nearly 20 percent of the GDP in 2020, consumers and insurance payers are looking for better value.

Between 1980 and 2018, the nation’s per capita healthcare costs nearly quadrupled, with spending reaching nearly $11,000 per person. With an aging population further fueling an unsustainable increase, industries like retail and technology continue to enter the picture — and appeal to patients with greater access, convenience, and value.

How does that affect today’s healthcare practices? It can inspire a response to follow suit, and modernize the patient experience.

Access to healthcare is changing

As every physician and practice owner knows, change is one of the only constants in healthcare. That change can be witnessed in the growing volume of care-related technology, from the rapid rise of telehealth to the presence of wearables like the Apple Watch. Amazon just launched an online pharmacy delivery service, Best Buy is angling to serve the aging population with remote monitoring technologies, and Apple is getting into the medical research business by partnering with academic medical centers across the country.

Tech giants like Amazon and Apple may not directly threaten independent medical practices today. But it’s important for practice owners to keep an eye on how and where patients are seeking care — to recognize shifts to other settings and options, and take steps to retain patient loyalty and market share.

The expansion of retail healthcare

Never before have so many profitable retail giants thrown their hat in the healthcare ring. In addition to virtual care networks, medical practices face increased competition from urgent care networks and retail clinics whose brands stretch coast to coast. 

Consumer Reports indicates there were more than 8,000 urgent care locations in the U.S. in 2018. According to Statista, that number fast approached 10,000 by the end of 2019, with further growth expected.

In September 2019, Walmart opened its first free-standing primary care clinic. At Walmart executives say patient volumes at that initial Georgia location quickly exceeded their expectations by 30 to 40 percent. Since then, the company has opened two more Walmart Health sites in Georgia, followed by clinics in Arkansas and Florida.

Meanwhile, CVS Health opened its first 15 HealthHUB locations in Houston, Texas earlier this year and has announced plans to expand the concept to 1,500 retail sites across the country by the end of 2021— even during the pandemic.

What’s driving the shift to non-traditional care settings?

If the healthcare system weren’t broken, there wouldn’t be so many experts trying to fix it. Patients have been gravitating to these new offerings because they aim to deliver ease and convenience that people experience in other aspects of their lives.

As an example, PatientPop patient survey research indicates people feel strongly about having to wait days or weeks for an appointment, and don’t want long waits while at the provider’s office. Patients also want easy appointment scheduling, online access to their records, transparent pricing, and flexible and/or late hours to accommodate their lifestyle.

How healthcare practices can respond to changes in the market

For practices that don’t deliver what patients want, other care settings pose a business threat — and convenience often sets the standard. According to the PatientPop 2020 patient survey results, 69.4 percent of patients say they’d consider switching doctors for convenience or a better experience.

How can private practices meet patient demand and maintain business growth in a competitive market? Here are a few top tips from the experts at PatientPop.

  • Offer flexible hours.
    According to the PatientPop data referenced above, 46 percent of patients say flexible and/or extended office hours are a priority. Both CVS HealthHUB and Walmart Health clinics are open seven days a week, with late evening hours available. As a bonus for cost-conscious patients, prices are clearly posted for each site so consumers know what to expect to pay.

    If expanding hours at your office is unsustainable, consider adding telehealth visits to the end of your day, or on weekends. That will give your practice more opportunities to see patients without having to strain in-person resources. 
  • Make it easy to schedule an appointment.
    Scheduling an appointment with your practice should not be work for patients. If you don’t currently, start offering online scheduling to optimize convenience (for both patients and your staff). For patients who choose to call your practice, remind your staff to maintain a friendly demeanor and be as accommodating as possible.

    Be sure to follow up by sending appointment reminders, preferably via text message, to help reduce your no-show rates and improve access for those waiting for an appointment.


  • Value your patient’s time.
    As referenced above, 57.8 percent of patients value a short wait when seeing the doctor. In a November edition of Becker’s Health IT, Former Cleveland Clinic CIO Edward Marx asked why patients would endure a long wait when “they could get the same quality care just around the corner at a local pharmacy or retailer in just 30 minutes?”

    Consider adjusting your scheduling templates to make it easier for patients to request same-day or next-day visits, and ensure your office operations are designed to make those visits as efficient as possible.

    If you find your office wait time longer than may be expected, share that with patients when they check in. If it appears the wait is getting longer, keep them informed. Often, managing expectations can fend off frustrations.  
  • Keep your patients engaged.
    Local, private healthcare practices have the opportunity to deliver a personalized patient experience that can be sustained over a period of years. Staying in touch with patients in between office visits can help keep patients informed, keep your practice top of mind, and make it less likely for patients to leave.

    Well-designed email campaigns can keep patients engaged and remind them to get routine screenings, vaccines and check-ups. You can also use emails to regularly deliver valuable health information that will position your practice as a team who truly cares about its patients’ well-being.


As markets get increasingly competitive, keeping your eye on patient needs, and delivering what those patients prefer, is the best way to maintain your advantage.


Also available:

The patient experience loop: An ongoing connection for patient acquisition and retention

What patients want: Results from the PatientPop 2020 patient perspective survey

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