Hospitals and health systems not paying close attention to what's happening in the retail segment are at risk of eventually being squeezed out of the growing market of self-directed patients.

Sure, in many ways it’s still early in the game of trying to capture the minds of people that are going to be making conscious choices about where to get their care, but those hospital executives not thinking hard about improving customer service with patients or not trying to find ways to improve patient access to care may fall too far behind on the learning curve to ever catch up.

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There have been some more signs recently that the retail segment is growing more robust, and that’s beyond the obvious, such as the growth among the drug chains in the provision of basic primary care.

For example, a large customer science consultant to the grocery business, dunnhumby, announced yesterday that it was expanding into health care. The plan is to help hospitals collect patient information and use the data to get a better handle on such things as which service lines to emphasize and how to better retain patients, said Patrick Johnson, who is dunnhumby’s lead executive in health. Big consultants don't make that sort of move unless there's serious indicators that demand is there for their services.

And Rite Aid, a drugstore chain, revealed that 25 new telehealth care kiosks had been installed in pharmacies across Ohio, which is a twist on the retail clinic that could potentially be more efficient than staffing drug stores with live providers. The kiosks, made by HealthSpot, offer hi-def video and devices such as stethoscopes and magnascopes.

Success is of course not guaranteed for these or other consumer-driven innovations, but even trying, failing and gaining some knowledge about what works, would be better than doing nothing until it’s too late to act and remain competitive.

As Lisa Goldstein, associate managing director for debt ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service, told H&HN a few weeks ago in a discussion about retail clinics that, "this will be an issue if there isn’t a competitive response from the industry."