Barriers preventing people from receiving timely medical care can lead to increased healthcare costs in the future. For example, consumers with chronic kidney disease have exponentially increasing healthcare costs for every stage the disease progresses.
Strategies to alleviate the barriers to care outlined above in Figure 1 have largely come in two forms:
- Telemedicine: the use of digital tools to connect patients to providers or products that improve health
- Neighborhood health: the use of urgent care, walk-in clinics and retail healthcare that is positioned further into the community that make it easier to access in-person care.
While positive steps, these two strategies leave many barriers to care such as lack of trust in the traditional system, fear, and behavior change barriers such as procrastination and laziness unaddressed. An overlooked strategy to remove these barriers is the utilization of “third places.”
Third Places are trusted locations in the community where people gather outside of work or their home. Third places include community staples such as coffee shops, libraries, salons, barbershops and malls. Healthcare is just beginning to utilize third places in order to increase access to care.
Here are a few examples of traditional healthcare providers and startups that are working to utilize third places as a way to deliver healthcare to more consumers:
- Vanderbilt and Barbershops: Vanderbilt is currently partnering with barbershops to run a study on the effects integrating care into barbershops can have on preventing chronic disease through increased screening utilization.
- Live Chair: Live Chair trains barbers to screen their customers for hypertension and refers at risk customers to the appropriate treatment.
- TRAP Medicine: TRAP Medicine uses barbershops as a way to screen patients for both physical and mental health conditions. TRAP conducted their own study and found that 70% of respondents would utilize mental and preventive health services if they were offered at a barbershop.
- ShopDocs: ShopDocs provides blood pressure monitoring for customers as they wait for their haircut. Additionally, they provide information on nutrition and exercise to prevent and control chronic disease.
As outlined above, by integrating healthcare into third places, care becomes more accessible for patients who are unlikely to interact with the traditional system. Additionally, by either partnering with existing third places or creating their own third places, providers can create new patient recruitment channels. Healthcare providers are getting squeezed by retailers, payers and tech companies for service volume. They need additional ways to get people into their service pipeline. Digital front doors are a great step, but other strategies to increase service utilization will be needed—Third places can be one of these new strategies.
The creation of third places as a sales channel can be seen in other industries such as personal banking. For example, over the last couple of years, Capital One has opened up multiple cafes around the country to attract more millennial customers. Capital One provides customers with free Wi-Fi and a comfortable place to spend time. Capital One uses this engagement to market their personal banking tools and services.
Healthcare providers could take a similar approach and utilize cafes and other third places to create an engaged patient population. Providers can utilize the space to provide services such as life coaching or behavioral counseling while also marketing their digital tools and additional in-person services to that already-engaged user base.