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Aug, 09 2011

WALK-IN CLINICS A REALITY NOW

A sedentary lifestyle and a demanding job takes a toll on one's health. Rahul Garg, a software consultant, works 10 hours a day and barely finds time for his health check-up. Consulting a doctor for minor health problems never makes it to his “to-do” list

NOT just Rahul, people from different walks of life are witnessing various issues when it comes to visiting a health clinic. Our survey of healthcare consumers finds the appetite for retail clinics as real and the potential for its success indisputable. We present you a specialised report on the avant-garde concept in health retailing.

The need for accessible, affordable, quality healthcare in India has never been greater, which gives way to a novel concept of ‘retail clinics' for the Indian healthcare market. Also known as walk-in clinics or Convenient Care Clinics (CCC), this is an established and popular concept in the US over 1,000 CCCs are located throughout the US. They serve the routine illness or casual health problems. The concept of retail clinics is similar to any retail outlet. Primarily located in high footfall areas like shopping malls, high streets, office complex etc, they make healthcare as convenient as buying groceries.

Healthcare in India is the second largest consumer-spending sector, at a size of about Rs 160,000 crore, it is significantly smaller than Indians spending on food and grocery, but more than what they spend on clothing and also more than other sectors. This figure has grown at a rate of over 15 per cent per year in the past decade and this growth is likely to be sustained in the coming years. Contrary to it, the government spending on healthcare in India remains as low as one per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP). According to the World Health Organization's (WHO) recent estimate, on an average a UN member country spends nearly 9.7 per cent of the GDP on healthcare and the total expenditure of the US is around 17.3 of their GDP. Consequently, private healthcare services cater to about 80 per cent of the primary healthcare in the country. However, only half of these are doctors, trained and licensed in modern medicine. As more than 60 per cent of the market is unorganised and highly segmented, many private facilities remain unlicensed or are rarely inspected. The private medical market is unregulated with a little concern for effectiveness, quality, costs and consumer safety, creating a need for quality and uniform health services to align with the rising demand.

Healthy concept, healthy returns

These retail clinics provide quick treatment at affordable prices! Besides, these clinics are open for long hours and need no prior appointment. The clinic is normally staffed with a registered practitioner, who can provide a broad scope of healthcare services, ranging from evaluation, treatment, diagnosis, education and counselling. What makes the concept more attractive is that these clinics provide preventive care, including screening, vaccination and physical examination whilst providing facilities like X-rays and ultrasound. More often these clinics are equipped with a medicine counter so that a patient can consult a doctor and buy the prescribed medicines too. These may also serve as sample collection points for laboratory tests, which are then send to external labs.

Zooming-in to the micro level, consumers are unhappy with conventional healthcare system. A system that is challenged to provide access to basic healthcare services when people need it the most, paves way for the successful replication of the concept of retail clinics in India. The gap therein creates an opportunity for existing players in the healthcare to use their resources and leverage the scale of operations to expand their presence. Hospitals or multi-speciality clinics can bring up retail clinics in high footfall areas. Besides general ailments, these clinics will provide preventive healthcare solutions. So, if a problem is encountered to be severe, a patient can be referred to a hospital. Similarly, for post-treatment follow-ups, a patient need not visit the hospital again and can get the check-up done from the clinic in the vicinity.

A bumpy ride

The concept is emerging mid-way between retail and healthcare. It's a model that will emerge through a synergy brought about by the two giant industries. However, model involves few risks and confronts challenges. Primary care in the Indian context is yet to be institutionalised. It is driven by individual physicians with their own set-up and a loyal client base. For them, moving out of their ‘comfort zone’ and paying a premium for a space will be difficult. Secondly, all walk-in clinics are limited in their ‘service menu’ and treat common 20-25 conditions. In India, for most of these conditions, customers generally visit a pharmacy shop and procure over-the-counter medication. The willingness to pay in many cases may not justify the set-up and operational costs associated with such a clinic. All in all, there is a need to institutionalise the primary care space. Some of the larger players in healthcare/investors can play a key role in this context to become pioneers. The fundamentals will largely continue to be the same - good quality treatment and convenience. A large healthcare player will require two key skills- medical manpower and highly efficient delivery network that puts operational challenge for any player to scale up. This is where lies an opportunity for franchising!

As per Medium, a healthcare consulting firm: “With the concept for large retail stores and supermarkets catching up in India, it is quite predictable that walk-in clinics will soon become popular. For population in large cities and towns, especially floating population, a retail clinic can be an attractive proposition since it is convenient to visit the clinic because of its location. The numbers in certain cases will be quite high. Besides, with healthcare industry becoming more consumer-driven, it is pertinent to market such a facility and communicate the value proposition - no appointments, proximity and shorter waiting period.” So a crippled primary healthcare system coupled with transformation in lifestyle and consumption patterns make way for engineering a structure like retail clinic that will assure healthy benefits for patients and franchisees both.

BOX_1

Enabling factors

Ö Changes in demographics, lifestyle urbanisation

Ö Increased consumer spending on healthcare

Ö Need for quick, convenient & quality healthcare

Ö Increased focus on prevention

Ö Increasing popularity of retail & mall culture

Disabling factors

Ø Healthcare services remain largely unorganised & fragmented

Ø For minor health issues consumers usually visit a pharmacist & procure over- the-counter medication

BOX_2

As often expected, in any new market there are risk factors associated with the concept

› How to appropriately price the services considering the high retail cost and low willingness to pay?

› How to find the most effective marketing media?

› How to build loyalty?

› How to get trained & quality staff?]

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