London, U.K.– In November the U.K. National Health Service (NHS) announced the rollout of walk-in tests at pharmacies for sore throat suffers to see if they need an antibiotic. The agency hopes this initiative will cut cost in two ways: 1) Reducing the amount of patients visiting GPs and 2) Reducing the amount of antibiotics prescribed for non-bacterial sore throat symptoms.

The service was piloted at 35 Boots pharmacies. A swab test provides results in five minutes to see if a course of antibiotics is needed. NHS officials claim the initiative could save the health service £35m a year and reduce GP consultations by as many as 800,000 if the scheme is taken up throughout the UK. About 1.2 million people visit their GP with sore throat symptoms every year.

“Necessity is the mother of invention, and health care worldwide is now fizzing with smart innovation. In the NHS, we’re now taking practical action to develop and fast-track these new techniques into mainstream patient care.” – Simon Stevens, Chief Executive at NHS 

The Sore Throat Test and Treat is part of eight innovations that Stevens is pushing to join the second year of targeted initiatives as part of the NHS Innovation Accelerator. While many are excited about the program, some don’t think these tests will help patient outcomes or be more cost effective. But that isn’t stopping the overall momentum of healthcare services infiltrating retail pharmacies.

In the U.S., retail clinics are growing, with 445% growth from 2006 to 2014 and a predicted 47% growth between 2014-2017. But it isn’t just their number – they are also growing in scope, level of care and integration into other healthcare offerings. New services include primary and preventive care, pediatrics and wellness, health screening and testing, chronic disease monitoring and management and transitional care.

Why This Matters:

There are many benefits of retail care. Convenience, cost and accessibility play a huge role. A report from the American College of Physicians claims that retail clinics are fine for a short-term illness or as a back-up when you can’t see your doctor. But they should not replace a long-term relationship with a primary care physician.

With the rise of retail clinics, we are seeing consumers’ expectations shift. Like many other avenues of life, many expect access to care quickly, inexpensively and during nights and weekends. This is a model traditional primary care providers have difficulty delivering on… and they may be losing patients because of it. This is especially true with younger, more mobile generations who don’t have established relationships with GPs. Retail clinics can become their main touch point with the medical system. This could have consequences, as longer-term relationships and conversations about health, preventative care and treatment management can become transactional and fall onto the shoulders of the patient.

As marketers, we have to understand this shift and what it means for healthcare communications. How do we target decision makers at retail clinics? What channels do they respond best to and what information do they find valuable? Should we talk to patients who primarily use retail clinics differently from those who have longstanding relationships with GPs? What around the pill technologies might we integrate within these retail ecosystems that could empower patients?

These are all questions to consider as we move toward this emerging model of care.

About the Author:

Zach Friedman