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Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe and this is MorningNewsBeat Radio, brought to you by Webstop, experts in the art of retail website design.


There was an interesting piece in Business Week the other day about health care reform, and how companies are playing a more active role in the delivery of health care services to their employees. One example: Toyota, which spent $9 million to open a health care facility to serve its workers in San Antonio, Texas. The clinic is run by Take Care Health Systems – which happens to be owned by Walgreen – and the article said that “the program has helped Toyota slash big-ticket medical items including referrals to highly paid specialists, emergency room visits, and the use of costly brand-name drugs. Plus, there are big productivity gains because workers don't have to leave the plant and drive to a doctor's office for routine medical matters.”

One estimate – admittedly made by Take Care Health, which certainly has a vested interest in the numbers looking good – says that “every dollar invested in setting up a clinic will return $3 to $5, even though on-site doctors spend an average of 20 minutes with each patient—more than double the national average for primary-care physicians.”

Toyota isn’t alone in pursuing this strategy. Other companies that pursuing similar strategies include Disney and Harrah’s. The other good news is this: at a time when the rising cost of health care benefits often is a bone of contention during labor negotiations, both employees and the unions that represent them seem pretty happy with this corporate foray into the health care business.

All this made me think about how these tactics could be adapted in the retailing business. One of the downsides of opening a clinic is that the general consensus is that you have to have at least a thousand people working in a location to make the numbers work, and not many stores have many employees in one spot.

But maybe there is a way to approach this differently. Is there any reason (other than antitrust, though I’m not sure that this would play a role here) that retailers couldn’t work together to create a centralized health care facility that would take care of their employees? There might be concerns about big retailers in big markets doing so, but certainly small chains and independents – always looking to find any sort of advantage – could band together to create a health care clinic that could take care of their employees and even lower their costs. By doing so, they could become a preferred employer, which in itself would be a differential advantage.

I’ve always thought that big companies ought to employ what I call the ‘Northern Exposure” solution – they ought to offer to put young people through medical school if they will sign a contract that commits them to working for them over a specific period of years. These employers could have them going from store to store, or working in a single facility. They could spend some time working in in-store health clinics, even, and seeing consumers with questions or simple maladies.

This idea isn’t fully formed yet. It’s really still marinating. But it seems to me that if we’re going to attack these kinds of issues with any sort of effectiveness, w have to try new and innovative solutions.

It was, in many ways, the last line of the Business Week article that grabbed my attention and got me thinking. It quotes Tracy Swanson, who runs Disney’s health care program:

“We can't afford to wait for the government to solve this,” she said.

Damn right. Let the politicians debate and negotiate these issues. Retailers need to get ahead of the game and find their own solutions, because in the end, government probably will only provide a band-aid. Business, if it does this right, can provide a cure.

For MorningNewsBeat Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.

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