Talking Shop with… Jeffrey Kao

The vice president and general manager for NCR Healthcare discusses self-service technology at retail health clinics.

Grocery Headquarters: Retail health clinics are becoming more popular with retailers and consumers. Tell us about the trends here.
Jeffrey Kao:
With the onset of health care reform over the next two to three years, the amount of new patients who will have health insurance under the Obama administration’s plan is estimated to be 32 million. This segment of patients is estimated to drive an additional 200 million patient visits/transactions per year. At the same time, health care providers are feeling the impact of reduced reimbursement for their services. What this leads to is additional cost pressure on providers who will be asked to serve more and more patients—for less money.

One of the potential winners in this equation are retail chains who are setting-up in-store clinics to provide care at a lower cost and with more convenience than a traditional standalone provider. Given the existing footprint of chains—especially their footprint in underserved, urban areas (the bulk of new coverage under health care reform will fall in this bucket)—they have an opportunity to establish themselves as a preferred service provider.

In addition, retail pharmacy providers are looking for new ways to monetize on their community pharmacists—one of their most expensive labor resources. There has been a tremendous growth of service types provided by the retail pharmacist: immunization administration, chronic disease management coaching (diabetes, hypertension, etc.) and medication therapy management among others. By adding these additional services to the pharmacy offering, pharmacies are looking for ways to gain operational efficiency through tools such as self-service check-in at kiosks, online appointment scheduling, automatic eligibility checking and many others.

What is necessary to get the most from these clinics in terms of technology?
Most clinics are already well poised to take advantage of self-service as it is typically a “bolt-on” solution as opposed to “rip and replace” in terms of interacting with existing clinical systems like electronic medical records, patient management databases and document storage systems. While these solutions are not required, they do create a streamlined workflow for the clinic, which will allow the retailer to serve higher volumes at a lower operating cost.

How does NCR help?
NCR provides a software platform to support any self-service transaction on any channel. More than just a multi-channel solution, we provide a true “converged” channel solution—meaning that the workflow is seamless whether the patient chooses to register online or check-in at a kiosk. The process is smooth and each patient touchpoint is aware of transactions at the other channel.

What does it take on the part of the retailer?
In order to effectively implement self-service in a retail environment a retailer needs to be willing to question and examine existing workflow processes. A pitfall can be trying to automate an existing bad process. NCR provides the expertise in self-service and healthcare to help retailers understand the best possible workflows for the patient and the provider.

What are the long-term benefits in terms of profit and store traffic?
Self-service has many points of return on investment for the retailer. If retailers choose to use their existing staffing model, they will be forced to continue to add expensive labor to serve the increasing volume of patients. By using self-service, retailers can serve more patients with the same amount of staff. The key to any self-service workflow efficiency is the concept of converting a serial process into a parallel process. A single-staff person may be able to check-in one patient at a time, but armed with a few kiosks that same single-staff person can check-in several patients at once, and in less time.

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