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Big Box medicine: How retail brands are thinking about the future of healthcare

Retail healthcare is a growing area of interest for many companies, as healthcare moves into the home and both retailers and traditional companies eye a piece of the nearly $4 trillion health industry pie.

From retail health clinics to wearable medical devices, there are more ideas brewing to expand healthcare access points and get patients care where they are, in their homes.

Medical devices —which now include wearables like smart watches and remote monitoring devices like blood pressure cuffs or glucose monitors — are providing significant market opportunity.

While the basic concept is the same as retail —getting a product or service to a customer — it is also higher stakes. As Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan recently said, making a healthcare purchase is "not like buying a toaster. It really can be life or death."

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And patients are a captive market in the largely opaque and insular health industry, where prices are often hidden and there's little transparency about the process available for patients.

Best Buy (BBY), for example, has a health segment that started making moves more than five years ago, with a focus on tech platforms and device providers that cater to the needs of patients in their homes. The company acquired Current Health, which provides at-home technology, patient monitoring, and healthcare services, in 2022 for $400 million.

Geek Squad agents provide in-home and remote support as well as a support line for device and connectivity questions.
Geek Squad agents provide in-home and remote support as well as a support line for device and connectivity questions.

Best Buy previously acquired GreatCall, an emergency response service for older patients, for $800 million in 2018. That deal gave BestBuy 900,000 subscribers to add to its customer base.

Since then, the retailer has announced partnerships with hospital systems that tie the at-home care with access to Geek Squad — the retailer's longtime technology support service, which will help patients use and troubleshoot their new medical devices.

The company also launched spaces in 40 stores nationwide last year that allow for customers to experience new devices — including non-healthcare devices. That includes testing out treadmills, smart refrigerators, hearing aids, and the like.

Best Buy has seen success linking Geek Squad with patients at Atrium Health and Geisinger Health, two large health systems in the country, and recently announced ramping up its relationship with Geisinger.

But the company maintains it is only interested in being a partner that provides the technology support, rather than moving into the health provider space as other retailers like Walmart (WMT), with its health centers, and Amazon (AMZN), with its primary care One Medical acquisition, have done. 

"We are not looking to provide care; we want to make the process of receiving care at home easier by doing what we do best: bringing consumers the technology they need and to age, receive care and remain well in their homes," said Deborah Di Sanzo, president of Best Buy Health, in an emailed response to Yahoo Finance.

"Traditional retail does play a role, especially when our large store footprint allows us to reach so many people. Seventy percent of Americans live within 10 minutes of a Best Buy," Di Sanzo said.

And the company is leveraging that footprint to provide interactive displays that can help customers become familiar with newer technology for at-home care.

So could you see mobility scooters in a Best Buy near you?

"In these stores you would indeed see new categories .... next to traditional tech customers love to see from Best Buy like TVs, but in addition to that, you’d also see an interactive display of over-the-counter hearing aids, expanded health and wellness areas with tons of new and innovative products," Di Sanzo said.

All of this is taking place as retailers undergo a transformation period, as more shopping is done online putting less demand on larger-footprint stores. But it isn't just retailers giving rise to big box medicine — that is, healthcare in a consumer-friendly format.

GE Healthcare (GEHC), which spun off into an independent company this year, has been a longtime player in medical devices for hospital use. But it sees opportunity in the at-home space, with portable devices sold through retailers, as well as providing the hospital-grade devices a retail clinic might need.

Catherine Estrampes, US and Canada CEO for GE Healthcare, told Yahoo Finance at-home care is a big topic for the company.

"There will be more demand for in-the-home, or in retail spaces, access to technology — to simple, new technology. There is always going to be a lot of demand for inpatient and clinics. But I think, if you look at the market structure today, the Walmarts and CVSs (CVS), they are making big moves into the market," Estrampes said.

One of the ideas Estrampes shared could be adding mammograms to retail health sites at a CVS or a Walmart. For example, imagine being in a retail store, and before you do your shopping, you get a mammogram with a health provider at the on-site clinic.

The company has also launched a handheld ultrasound device, Vscan Air, which can be used both for the maternity care market, but also has benefits for rural markets in the US and globally. To compliment the handheld use, GE Healthcare acquired Caption Health earlier this year, which is an AI platform that could help guide a medical professional in using a handheld ultrasound device.

The company also invested in Pulsenmore, an at-home ultrasound system that expectant mothers can use.

That could reduce the burden of multiple doctor's visits that maternal care requires — making the process easier for both patient and provider, especially if data can be transmitted to the doctor or health system, Estrampes said.

Data is key in this scenario, so having healthcare partners linked through electronic medical records could become an important avenue to having better health outcomes for patients, Estrampes said.

But there's another benefit: It can also help GE Healthcare build better products.

"The data is totally linked to the development of insights, so that we can develop predictive analytics to detect early and treat earlier," Estrampes said.

Follow Anjalee on Twitter @AnjKhem.

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