Riverside Part II

A New Point of View on Customer Engagement

Riverside HealthCare’s retail mentality sharpens focus on all stakeholders

What does it take to build an ongoing sense of collaboration and engagement with patients, providers, customers, and the local community?

Improving the stakeholder experience is one of the three pillars of Riverside HealthCare’s management strategy. Nowhere is that more clear than in the retooling of the system’s services through the aggressive application of a new retail philosophy. For other systems, going retail may rate anywhere from a minor distraction to an unsound business strategy. But at Riverside, it is a critical pathway for linking better business health and better patient care.

Riverside’s conversion to retail began in 2006 with the realization that only a change in the way services are delivered to patients and other stakeholders would allow those services to reach their full business and clinical potential. Following that outside-of-the-box thinking, Riverside brought in someone with no healthcare experience to bring a retail mentality to the enterprise. Riverside hired 36-year-old Justin Caldwell that year as its new director of retail operations and never looked back.


Watch a video interview with Caldwell on Riverside’s retail strategy


How do you overhaul the traditional healthcare mindset and instill a service and engagement mentality?

Central to a successful retail strategy is a laser-focus on the customer, according to Caldwell, whose background includes stints at Staples and Sears. It was that lack of customer focus that Caldwell says he first noticed when arriving at Riverside seven years ago. Many products and services were organized and delivered primarily for the convenience of the people providing them, not for the convenience of the customers receiving them.

Case in point was Riverside’s pharmacy and gift shop. Located at opposite ends of Riverside’s acute-care hospital, they were poorly positioned to meet the needs of patients, customers and visitors who needed the services of both. Not only did he move the gift shop next to the pharmacy, but Caldwell made a number of other changes to the gift shop operations to better serve Riverside’s clientele and take advantage of the now adjacent pharmacy. Hours were increased to seven days a week, online ordering was created, and the stock was tweaked to feature fewer but higher-end, higher-margin products like jewelry, women’s accessories, and candles. Similar conveniences were added to the pharmacy operations. The end results to date, per Caldwell, are higher customer satisfaction and increased revenues from both the pharmacy and gift shop.

Using that same retail approach with stakeholder experience top of mind, Riverside and Caldwell retooled a number of other products and services at the system and created new ones to better serve the needs of Riverside’s community. Among the new services are a durable medical equipment store and a sleep institute.

But the crowning achievement of Riverside’s retail strategy to date is the October 2011 opening of a retail outpatient clinic at the local Wal-Mart. Unlike other services remade by Riverside’s retail approach, the retail outpatient clinic posed a bigger challenge because of the long list of stakeholders whose experience needed to be satisfied. Topping that long list was Riverside’s affiliated physicians, who might have viewed a new retail clinic as competition for patients.

Using market research more typically found in the retail world, Caldwell determined that a retail clinic was in keeping with the system’s mission and management strategy of seeking growth opportunities to meet community need. The research documented a gap in service in the community for easy-access, low-cost primary care for routine medical conditions. It confirmed the local market’s capacity to add a retail clinic. And it show that Riverside’s own emergency department was overcrowded with non-emergent cases. But if the physicians weren’t on board, none of that empirical evidence would matter.

The first step was hiring a medical director for the retail clinic project tasked with communicating to all of Riverside’s affiliated physicians on the project each step of the way. The second step was integrating the affiliated physicians into the retail clinic operations and engaging them as collaborators rather than competitors. Under the integration plan:

- Physicians whose patients visited the clinic would be notified and would receive the treatment notes electronically from that visit. The clinic, in turn, would refer those patients back to their own physicians for any follow-up or needed care.

- Physicians whose offices were too busy could refer their own patients to the retail clinic for routine primary care services.

- Retail clinic patients who had no regular physician would be referred to physicians willing to take on new patients.

By considering the needs of both physicians and patients, Riverside made sure that everyone involved won. To date, the retail clinic has been a success financially and clinically for patients, for Riverside itself, and for the system’s affiliated primary-care physicians.

The retail clinic project is a case study of how Riverside’s aggressive application of a retail mentality improves the stakeholder experience and helps realize that prong of the system’s three-part management strategy. In an interview, Caldwell was somewhat coy about what projects are up next for a retail makeover or creation. But among the possibilities are concierge medicine, telehealth and corporate fitness programming.

In today’s changing healthcare marketplace, every organization needs to ask itself: How do we better understand who our stakeholders are and what can we do differently to meet their evolving needs?


Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 of a four-part series on Riverside HealthCare. Part 1 provided an overview of Riverside’s management strategy. Part 3 will look at Riverside’s transformation of an observation unit. And Part 4 will profile Riverside’s senior services and care continuum strategy.