Should Healthcare be Learning from Supermarkets?

2020 has turned our world upside down. Things we took for granted, like shaking hands or hugging your friend, are taboo. We have truly spent time reflecting on what was important and essential and whom we have or have not respected. Hopefully, like me, 2020 has allowed you to look at all parts of the world through a new lens.

Throughout the pandemic, supermarkets have played a central role in almost everyone's lives in the United States. In the Spring, I was standing in line to go into the grocery store. For future generations, we did that during COVID-19, go to grocery stores and stand in line to go shopping.

Each person walking in was counted at the door by an attendant with an old fashion clicker.

As a bit of an analytics nerd, I asked the person counting all the people what he was measuring.

His response, "I don't know we count everything here."

During my junior year in college, Marketing class with Dr. Palumbo allowed me to learn how they have rigged the game on the consumers. Supermarkets measure everything down to the buying patterns of every cohort of consumer who walks through the door.

Large conglomerates know exactly how people will normally go one way upon entry, their buying patterns, and what to put in their way to induce an impulse buy. They know what is on their shelves and when to order more. This measurement goes on and on to a very granular level.

Ever notice how you end up with an "exclusive coupon" in the mail right before running out of the item on the coupon.

If they know so much, why were there shortages in some places at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic? Buying patterns changed the stores could not predict the frenzy.

What does all of this have to do with Healthcare?

Over the years, supermarkets, based upon consumer demand, have had to get out of their own way and reshape their delivery system to fit the times. The same cannot be said of healthcare.

Looking at the supermarket, we see how far an average primary care office must go even to be in the same arena.

When patients walk into a doctor's office for a visit, how many of them are still handed a paper form?

How many of those patients will know exactly how much they will owe at the end of the visit?

How many offices know if they are set up with an optimized schedule? Office/patient flow?

How many offices have a handle on their inventory of supplies?

The non-clinical cornerstones of successful healthcare practices include:

Analysis of data - Knowing what you have and what is outstanding.

Being agile in approach - Not every patient is going to respond the same way.

Flexible in how care is delivered - Care is not just about what happens in the room. Find ways to care for your patient when they are not in the office.

Adapting to New Tools – Openness and willingness to try new technology and improve on the process.

A mindset of constant improvement is critical in establishing these values within any organization. Unfortunately, many organizations either cannot or do not invest in the tools and learning opportunities to succeed with a constant improvement mindset. These are just the tools without kind, compassionate clinicians and staff as the foundation, none of this works.

We should be asking, who is getting in the way of moving forward?

Etan Walls is Principal of Strong Walls Consulting and author of the upcoming book The Mega Factory of Healthcare. Strong Walls Consulting provides operational, strategic, and tactical assistance to healthcare organizations, large and small. Previously, Mr. Walls was the COO of the largest independent outpatient Pediatric group in the United States. He has mentored many startup Healthcare IT organizations with his brand of innovative, forward-thinking leadership. All inquiries should go to etanwalls@gmail.com