Imagine a world in which your smart phone — and a nurse connected to it — can determine the level of care you need for a health concern before ever leaving the house. Or envision an urgent care visit where, upon your arrival, you are registered in the time it takes to walk to the exam room and are out the door in less than an hour.

While health care providers have been adjusting to the realities of consumerism through transparency initiatives and pricing strategies, MultiCare Health System in Tacoma, Wash., is meeting the challenge through disruptive innovations that add location, access and lifestyle to the mix. In 2014, MultiCare’s leadership recognized that the place in which care is delivered would be the most critical differentiator in a highly competitive market. That same year, MultiCare established the goal of connecting better to patients by interacting with 1.3 million unique individuals by 2020. Its baseline of 294,000 lives left much room for growth. The system’s specific strategy has been dubbed First Touch.

MultiCare’s First Touch strategy has been the impetus for creating a variety of health care access points that go far beyond the hospital or emergency department to reach patients where they live, work and shop. These retail and virtual health channels are aimed at establishing that first touch with consumers, when a positive experience can forge long-lasting, loyal relationships with patients. And, these 2.0 strategies offer consumers a broader variety of
 health care options at 
lower costs. They include:

  1. RediClinics in Rite Aid stores — walk‐in clinics for diagnosing and
 treating common symptoms and illnesses.
  2. Doctor on Demand — virtual health care visits with a clinician to treat minor conditions.
  3. eCare sessions — provide e-mail access to advanced practice nurses who answer minor health questions and addresses concerns.
  4. Indigo Urgent Care clinics — walk‐in centers geared to individuals on the go, for common acute illnesses and injuries too complex for the RediClinics.

These retail channels complement MultiCare’s integrated network, comprising four adult hospitals, one pediatric hospital, two multispecialty centers, five outpatient surgery centers and nine urgent care centers. With 75 percent of health care consumers projected to have high-deductible health plans by 2020, retail health care is a strategy that is ahead of the curve.

A menu of health care
 options for every lifestyle


Retail health care is defined as engaging directly with consumers for health care-related products and services in a price-sensitive environment. MultiCare’s four retail channels have different price points and varying user experiences. Consumers can choose the level of care and convenience they want at a price affordable for them.

For instance, Indigo and RediClinics offer walk-in visits and are much quicker than traditional doctor appointments. They are also considerably less expensive than a primary care visit. The Indigo clinics offer more services, diagnostic tools and visits with a physician, while the RediClinics are staffed by advanced practice nurses. Doctor on Demand offers virtual office visits with clinicians via a web-based computer, mobile phone or tablet for a fixed fee of $49. Through a partnership with Zipnosis, consumers can access a RediClinic nurse with their health concerns for just $25. The Zipnosis platform utilizes branching logic to determine if an individual’s present complaint and health care history render him or her an appropriate candidate for this type of low-acuity visit.

Key Takeaways

  • A “retail understanding” does not happen on its own — it takes courage. Look to innovators in other industries to refine your efforts.
  • Because retail is so different from a hospital setting, a complete carve-out of retail support services will reap the greatest success, such as for human resources and recruiting, marketing, design and the supply chain.
  • In terms of finance, a retail corporate allocation is critical instead of the traditional hospital-based, cost center approach.
  • Turf battles surrounding reporting structure must be addressed.

The partnership with Rite Aid has helped MultiCare learn how to design products and services that appeal to consumers in a retail setting. Without question, the marketing approach is different from traditional health care marketing. Likewise, there are huge differences in the design, supply chain and finance structure of retail establishments. But the payoff has been an increase in those all-important first touches. MultiCare introduced its first three RediClinics in March 2015 and by 2016, there were 11 clinics throughout the Seattle-Tacoma area.

On the way to being 
better-connected


In terms of getting to the goal of touching 1.3 million unique individuals by 2020, MultiCare is well on its way.

  • By the end of 2015, the system had grown First Touch encounters by 1.5 percent.
  • By year end 2016, MultiCare was 4.4 percent above baseline.

Even more significant is the net that MultiCare has cast in reaching consumers it otherwise might never have.

  • Roughly half of Doctor on Demand patients in 2016 were non-MultiCare patients, and virtual visits increased 194 percent in 2016 over 2015. 

  • Patients rated their experiences at 4.9 on a scale of 1 to 5.

Recent acquisitions of the ImmediateClinics and the Rockwood Health System will help MultiCare achieve its target of 1.3 million unique individuals. Since several of the First Touch channels are being brought to market between 2015 and 2017, most of the growth in First Touch encounters is expected to peak from 2018 to 2020. MultiCare continues to explore new ways to provide health care services on a 
retail or virtual basis. As consumers seek better options that are more convenient and less expensive, being better connected has never been more important to MultiCare’s strategic success and the health and well-being of the communities we serve.

This article is from the Spectrum newsletter of the American Hospital Association’s Society for HealthCare Strategy & Market Development (SHSMD). For more information about SHSMD please visit shsmd.org.