Big Retail Healthcare Strategies and the Implications for the Senior Housing and Care Sector

April 25, 2024

AgeTech  • Healthcare and Wellness  • Medicare  • Senior Housing  • Blog

What do Amazon, Kroger, Walmart, and Best Buy have in common besides being big retailers? The somewhat surprising answer is that they are all jumping into the healthcare business joining other retailers such as Walgreens and CVS that have a more obvious connection to the space.  

Why does it matter? The move into healthcare is likely to open collaboration opportunities with senior housing and care providers that house many of the retailers’ customers. Senior housing communities can act as a valuable hub for health services and deliver on the promise to focus on the health and longevity of residents.  

“The senior housing industry needs to get creative about what the future could look like,” said Anne Tumlison, who moderated a panel discussion on the implications of retail healthcare strategies at the 2024 NIC Spring Conference.  

Providing context, Tumlinson, founder and CEO at ATI Advisory, noted that annual Medicare expenditures exceeded $1 trillion for the first time in 2023. Over half of that total went to private health insurance companies primarily focused on value-based care models meant to keep people healthy and reduce costs. “Food, housing, and special support services are becoming part of what we think of as medical care,” said Tumlinson.  

The panelists included representatives of big retailers who discussed their strategies during the well-attended main stage session.   

In 2003, Amazon acquired One Medical for $3.9 billion. One Medical is a membership-based primary care practice with 250 offices in 24 markets. 

“Amazon is customer obsessed,” said panelist Lindsay Botsford, M.D., market medical director at One Medical. “It’s a good cultural fit.” She emphasized the importance of easy access to care and the patient experience—goals similar to those of senior housing providers.  

The Kroger grocery chain entered the pharmacy business 45 years ago to provide convenience to shoppers. The evolution of that strategy has continued, and Kroger now operates 2,200 in-store pharmacies, along with 225 clinics that offer primary care. Registered dieticians are also available to help customers plan nutritious meals to combat chronic diseases such as diabetes and obesity. “Food as medicine can help,” said Marc Watkins, M.D., chief medical officer, Kroger Health. “Healthy communities are good for business.” 

Panelist Chip Gabriel believes that senior living has to change. He is a partner at Senior Living Transformation Company (“SLTC”). SLTC has a 113-unit assisted living and memory care community in Tennessee that acts as an innovation center for technology and data solutions for the industry.  

A goal is to track resident health and outcomes to show that senior housing is a critical link in the healthcare continuum, “We are part of the system,” said Gabriel. “But we don’t get credit for the money we save the health plans.” 

Geriatrician Carla Perissinotto, M.D., noted that the existing healthcare system does not work well for older adults since it is overly focused on treating illnesses. She instead advocates for person-centered care that includes conversations about aging. “Talk to residents,” said Perissinotto, a professor at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF). “Ask what is important to them.” She worked at UCSF Care at Home for more than 10 years. It provides medical care to home bound older adults.  

The conversation turned to risk management. Tumlinson noted that senior housing offers an environment with “eyes on the resident” around the clock. Senior housing providers can intervene before a health condition becomes critical and requires a trip to the hospital. She suggested that technology could be used to unlock that value for operators.  

One Medical uses technology and a team approach to manage risk and deliver a better patient experience. Instead of episodic visits with multiple doctors, patients have an established relationship with care providers. Support staff are part of the team, reporting patient changes they notice such as forgetting appointments. “We pick up on cues of rising risks,” said Botsford.   

More data does not necessarily mean better care, according to Perissinotto. While remote patient monitoring is a huge opportunity, she is concerned about relying too much on the technology. “The senior living staff knows the residents,” she said, adding that sometimes it’s better to wait and watch the resident before taking more drastic steps such as a trip to the hospital. “Slow down.” 

As the session wrapped up, Tumlison challenged attendees to work toward aligning incentives between health plans, senior living providers and retailers that are growing their footprints to facilitate accessible care. “The solution to problems with healthcare is to move more aggressively and faster,” she said.