Health Business Blog

Health care business consultant and policy expert David E. Williams share his views

Suckin’ down booze at the store. Public nuisance or the last best hope for retail?

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Kevin Sullivan, sobriety coach

I’ve read and written about retailers offering a casual alcohol drinking experience to lure shoppers into their stores. Curious to learn more, I interviewed sobriety coach Kevin Sullivan to get his take.

Retailers are offering alcoholic beverages to shoppers. How widespread is this practice? Is it growing?

This practice has currently been adopted by more and more retailers including Nordstrom, Crate & Barrel, Whole Foods, and Lululemon. More and more retailers are looking to add casual drinking experiences to their business models.

What is the motivation for this practice?

The onset of online shopping has forced retailers to make stores more experiential to encourage foot traffic. With consumers able to get anything they want delivered to them from their home, they need new incentives to head into stores.

How similar is this approach to the practice of casinos offering free drinks to patrons?

Casinos offer free drinks to encourage patrons to keep on gambling. While alcohol has the obvious side effect of lowering inhibitions, just keeping consumers around products can convince them to make a purchase. The same concept is basically true in casinos, it incentivizes customers to stay around your products and services.

Do retailers find this approach benefits them? How?

Yes, for example, at Nordstrom locations that offer food and alcohol, these new offerings have become 25% of their total business. Retailers can use these offering to encourage sales of their main products, Whole Foods, for example, gives shoppers a token for 10% off groceries after drinking at their bar.

Any downsides from the retailer perspective?

Retailers will have to obtain the necessary licenses in each state to be able to sell alcohol. Selling alcohol in itself costs money, stores have to purchase the drinks they want to sell, and have to hire workers that can make appealing drinks. Retailers will also have to deal with a changing society that is becoming increasingly sober curious along with those who already abstain from alcohol. If members of these communities were interested in shopping in-store at these locations, this may turn them away.

What are the concerns from a public health perspective?

Having more locations that sell alcohol always runs the risk that those that should not be drinking will have access to alcohol. I find it hard to believe that consumers will be willing to have a designated driver before heading to Whole Foods. Having more casual drinking experiences may lead to an increase in both underage drinking and drunk driving.

What are the implications for individuals who are trying to reduce their drinking or abstain?

Those trying to stay away from alcohol will have to have honest conversations with themselves to see if they’d be able to handle being sold alcohol while shopping for shoes or furniture. Most are likely to be able to live with this new reality, but inevitably some will be coerced to stay home and shop online.

Are any stores allowing or encouraging the consumption of cannabis or other substances? 

To date, I am not aware of any locations offering any other substances aside from alcohol. As cannabis becomes legal in more and more states, this may change.

Where do you think the trend will go from here?

I believe this is largely a fad for in-store retail. Many more retail locations are likely to close before this trend becomes the industry standard.


Kevin Sullivan is a sobriety coach, motivational speaker and serial entrepreneurial success who, proudly in recovery himself, is committed to helping others struggling with addiction. Known as the “turnaround guy,” for his ability to flourish in challenging markets, Kevin has helped kickstart
successful multi-million dollar businesses in several different verticals

What’s new with old drivers?

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Where’s my Uber?

A front page story in the Boston Globe (No longer in the driver’s seat; for elders, giving up the keys comes with a cost: giving up their freedom) is one that could have been written any time over the past 30 years or so. In fact, the same story has been written many times, which makes me wonder why the Globe bothered publishing it again now.

It’s a 29-paragraph article, and only in paragraphs 26 and 27 do we see any reference to ride share apps. Even then, it’s done dismissively:

These days, technology offers car-less seniors more options, freeing those who can pay for rides from depending on neighbors. Unlike past generations, seniors relinquishing licenses are a mouse click away from delivery or ride-sharing services.

But in remote settings, ride-sharing services can be harder to access, and family and friends often pick up the slack.

That really misses the point. The line about “those who can pay for rides” implies that Uber and Lyft are luxury services. Actually, for people who don’t drive that many miles –which is the population we’re talking about– taking a ride share service as needed will be a lot cheaper than owning a car, paying for insurance, maintenance, parking, etc. So almost by definition,  ride share services are affordable to seniors who would otherwise be driving.

Uber and Lyft are all over the place (there are not that many “remote settings” in the Boston area). But sure, I guess that affects some people.

I’ve been impressed that even non-tech savvy people, like my 80+ year old relative are able to summon Uber and Lyft successfully.

Cars themselves are getting easier and safer for the elderly to drive. Fully autonomous vehicles are still a few years in the future, but plenty of modern cars have features like adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, lane keeping assistance, and rear cross traffic warning that help older drivers compensate for declines in physical and mental capacity.

Those get no mention in the article.

It’s also worth pointing out that elderly drivers are not that big of a threat to the public. They drive fewer miles, wear seatbelts, and are generally mellow behind the wheel. Inevitably, some die. Part of the reason is that older people are more frail, and more likely to die in an accident that a younger person would survive.

By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams, president of Health Business Group.

 

 

Judgment day at Planet Fitness

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No judgment

My hotel in NYC has a decent gym, but I was looking for something more. So I visited the Planet Fitness right on the same block. I’d never been to a Planet Fitness before, but right away I noticed something odd. “Judgement free zone,” is plastered all over the place. It’s on the walls and every piece of equipment –pretty much everywhere.

Back in the day (before spell checkers) I was a good speller. I did well in the spelling bee at summer camp as a kid. (I didn’t win, because I got nervous and misspelled the word “recommend,” even though I knew better.) Still, I can usually spot a typo, and I didn’t think the American version needed that extra “e.”

Sure enough, Easy Street blogged about this very topic five years ago.

Misspellings provoke judgment from readers who catch errors. However, as with most misspellers, Planet Fitness had moved on. According to a spokesperson, “Spelling judgement with an ‘e’ started out as a mistake. Back in 1998 we considered changing it to the traditional spelling, but decided to keep it because it fit with our brand personality—we are judgment free on all matters, so what better way to demonstrate this than by keeping the original incorrect spelling.”

Who really cares? No one.

But it did get me thinking about how computerized tools and artificial intelligence can rob us of certain skills and brain function, even a they relieve drudgery and improve quality and consistency. Think about the GPS. On the one hand, it guides me to the optimal route and gives me the confidence to explore unknown areas. On the other hand, I can barely read a map these days or learn new routes on my own.

The same problems apply to healthcare providers, and I first wrote about this issue nine years ago: Are decision support tools turning doctors into idiots? If every answer is a click away or embedded into automated decision support tools, it’s hard to think for oneself.


By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams, president of Health Business Group.

Can smartphones save us from coronavirus?

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Happy Chinese New Year!

A friend came home from a business trip to China on Friday. His kids (teens and tweens) were ready to hug and kiss him when he returned –as they usually do-, but when they heard his cough they fled to their rooms, slammed the doors and donned surgical masks.

Did dad bring the coronavirus home with him? Except for his wife, no one in his family was taking that chance.

Which got me thinking, what’s changed since the last epidemics of  Ebola, avian flu and SARS…?

For one thing, cell phones and the Internet have become ubiquitous. Bad news travels fast, and there’s no keeping the kids in the dark.

On the other hand, maybe smartphones can help keep us safe. For example, I’m impressed by ResApp, an Australian company that helps doctors diagnose respiratory illnesses by analyzing the data in coughs. Is it asthma, COPD, pneumonia, or nothing serious? ResApp uses the smartphone to figure it out. (Here’s my interview with the company from 2016.)

The tool is designed to be used by healthcare professionals (probably to keep regulators from getting nervous about self-diagnosis) but it seems to me that patients could use the app themselves and just send the data over the web for confirmation, avoiding the possibility of infecting healthcare workers and other patients.

Kids are about to go back to school in Australia after summer vacation/fire season (remember they’re on the upside down part of the world), and everyone’s nervous that coronavirus will show up in the classroom.

I asked ResApp CEO Tony Keating CEO for his opinion. He said

The identification and isolation of patients with viruses such as this novel coronavirus is a critical public health step. Like SARS and MERS, 2019-nCoV causes pneumonia – an infection of one or both lungs, causing cough, difficulty breathing and/or fever. People with these symptoms can be identified (in places like airports), isolated, and sent for further molecular testing. However this screening is difficult, as not all patients with the virus may have a fever at the time and infrared thermometers are not 100% accurate. These symptoms are also indistinguishable from the usual winter illnesses such as influenza. New screening tests which are rapid, accurate and portable could improve screening, and potentially reduce the global spread of these viruses.

Sounds promising to me. Let’s hope these new solutions can come online soon.

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By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams, president of Health Business Group.

Health disparities: You ain’t seen nothing yet

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Welcome to the machine

A survey in the UK showed that the gap in health between rich and poor is widening. From the US perspective that comes as a bit of a surprise. After all, don’t the Brits have universal healthcare through the NHS?

But of course, social determinants of health such as diet, exercise, stress, access to transportation, and education play a bigger role in health than the healthcare system. With socioeconomic disparities widening, it serves to reason that health disparities will grow, too.

So where do things go from here? They probably get worse –that’s my guess. Current political and economic forces in the US, UK and elsewhere point toward an exacerbation of current gaps. And as climate change makes the world a generally harsher environment it’s the poor who will be more adversely affected by floods, fires, air pollution, etc.

But in a decade or two that will be nothing compared with the haves and have nots wrought by the advancement of medical technology. Expect the well off to increasingly invest in tools that let them get further ahead: for example cyborg inventions that augment intelligence, strength, vision, hearing and more. Not to mention artificial organs and genetic interventions to greatly extend life.

Will such modifications make people happy? Maybe not. But it will enable them to lord it over the rest of society to an increasingly greater degree.

Enjoy!