Diabetes Is an Epidemic: Will Retail Revamp Primary Care?

The high and rapidly increasing awareness and diagnosis of the disease demands the description “epidemic.” Declaring diabetes an epidemic also makes it clear that public health approaches must alert retail and supplier communities that how the shopper shops today, will be very different in the future.

According to the National Institute of Health, diabetes affects more than 18 million people in the United States and costs an estimated $132 billion annually in the healthcare system. While mortality has declined for cardiovascular disease, it has increased for diabetes.

The prevalence of diabetes is rising at an alarming rate. Nationwide, one in 12 adults has diabetes, and type 2 diabetes has become a commonplace childhood disease as well. In New York City alone, where the prevalence of diabetes (self-reported) more than doubled in less than a decade (1994–2002), prevalence among Latinos is twice as high as that among African Americans and four times as high as that among Whites or Asians. Nationally, the highest rates are found among Native Americans.

One in every two people has it, and doesn’t know it.

Diabetes is the fourth leading cause of death in most developed countries. Complications from diabetes, such as coronary artery and peripheral vascular disease, stroke, diabetic neuropathy, amputations, renal failure and blindness are resulting in increasing disability, reduced life expectancy and enormous health costs for virtually every society. Diabetes is certain to be one of the most challenging health problems in the 21st century.

Astounding projections have been made; for example, one in two Latinas will develop diabetes in a lifetime. While diabetes mortality is rising for all race and income groups, complications and higher death rates occur particularly among minorities and low-income groups, thus exacerbating health disparities.

Opportunity for retail: selfcare.

In the United States, diabetes tends to be a disease that, while certainly not benign, is eminently manageable. According to the NY Times, federal researchers reported that health risks for the approximately 25 million Americans with diabetes had fallen sharply over the last two decades. Elsewhere on the globe, however, diabetes plays out in a dramatically different fashion as healthcare systems struggle to keep-up and selfcare retail strategies and offerings are less available.

“It’s sad that the existing healthcare establishment has not figured out a way to make primary care affordable and accessible,” says Jerry Avorn, Harvard Medical Professor.  “We should not be surprised if someone outside of our world comes in and does it for us.”

Access to quick, convenient care on nights and weekends is one of the prime selling points of “retail clinics” based in pharmacies, groceries, and big-box retailers. With longer operating hours and no need for appointments, these clinics, sometimes called “doc-in-a-box,” give patients more flexibility to avoid time away from work and family. Plus, a trip to a retail clinic costs about one-third less than a visit to a doctor’s office, and is far cheaper than an emergency room. Retail clinics usually accept private insurance, Medicare, and, in many cases, Medicaid; yet people without insurance or a personal physician also are using them for treatment of routine illnesses, basic health screenings, and low-level acute problems like cuts, sprains, and rashes.

The new shopping list.

In-store clinics are definitely a plus. But what is even more interesting to me is the potential opportunity buyers have to build a culture of health and wellness inside their stores through innovative merchandising, shopper education, and even bridging the gap between the payer/provider and the consumer.

Pick up milk, two loaves of bread, toilet paper, get a flu shot, and ask the pharmacist what is the best blood glucose monitoring system.

Since customer delight is often conveniently defined as a great purchase experience, there’s no debating that a great experience can be inside every retail store – finding exactly what you want, enjoying the ambiance, and receiving friendly service – is a genuine joy.

Retailers who see their customers as genuinely three-dimensional people and can act on this rich contextual insight – who customers are, what problems they are trying to solve in their lives, who they are solving these problems with and how they define value – have the opportunity to differentiate themselves in a compelling way. And given the grand scale of a growing diabetic consumer, this could not be more true now than ever before.

This is good news in a crowded marketplace, because as stores become ever more polished, a fine shopping experience will become an increasingly commoditized customer expectation to help them reach their personal goals in health and wellness.  Really engaging with individual lives requires a drastic escape from what retail has been historically — the retail crate was founded on the efficiencies of scale that came from serving a broad market in roughly the same way. The current focus on customer-centricity aims to change that.

Personalize your personalization strategy.

Real lives encompass shifting, and complex and messy definitions of value, which demand a deeper kind of understanding. Ultimately, purchases are not about the acquisition of a “thing” but about the role those things play in our lives.

If a retailer’s only goal is to put a coupon in someone’s hand, there is little value to understanding a customer more deeply. However, if retailers are willing to escape the foundational crate and actively involve themselves in each customer’s unique life, then there are almost immeasurable opportunities to create micro-markets, each with their own metrics of delight. Success will be driven by the ability to create unique brand experiences, products and services that customers perceive as valuable. Retailers must merchandise according to occasion, discovery and the challenges in life.

Go deeper. Learn more…

Click on the image above, and watch a recorded “live” infocast hosted by GMDC and Johnson & Johnson about how to deepen your trading partner relationships through the curation of your shoppers needs for diabetic products.

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