“Gas ‘N’ Health Care” is one of my most-used cartoons these days as I talk with health/care ecosystem stakeholders about the growing and central role of consumers in health care.

You may be surprised to learn that the brilliant cartoonist Michael Maslin created this image back in 1994. That’s 22 years ago.

When I first started using this image in my meetings with health care folks, they’d all giggle and think, ‘isn’t that funny?’

Legacy health care players — hospitals, doctors, Pharma, and medical device companies — aren’t laughing at this anymore.

At a Costco a 20 minutes’ drive from my home, I can purchase low-priced gas, curate a selection of organic food, refill well-priced drugs at the pharmacy (per Consumer Reports positive reviews compared with other chain and store pharmacies), and partake in wellness screenings, such as bone density and blood pressure readings.

I can do all of this to benefit my health and wellness, and try to stave off illness, all without the involvement of the health care system.

With the growth of high-deductible health plans requiring first-dollar consumer payments and peoples’ growing out-of-pocket shares of health costs, the new health consumer can be more demanding: for convenience, access, choice, ambiance, and customer service.

Add these factors up and you get “value” in the eye of the consumer.

Yesterday, I attended an all-day session sponsored by Walmart and organized by Mack Elevation Forum and Drug Store News. I provided the first keynote talk of the day, on the new consumer in the new health economy. This cartoon was among my presentation points, and its meaning (and the opportunity underlying the laughter) were not lost on the participants.

These participants were Walmart and many of the store’s suppliers who serve consumers health needs where we live, work, and play; that is, outside of the healthcare system. These items cover over-the-counter medicines, hygiene products, personal care, women’s and men’s health, home health, durable medical equipment, skin care, oral care, nutrition, and products aimed at supporting caregivers and those for whom we care (THINK: aging well at home).

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  Today, we already see health at the grocery store, pharmacy chain, discounters and Big Box stores, including and beyond Costco and Walmart. You should expect to see more, ongoing.

imageThe opportunity for the new retail health market is to provide transparency and value in the eyes of the consumer that “patients” do not experience in hospitals and doctors’ offices. The bar chart from PwC’s Strategy& illustrates that as many consumers trust large retail and digital companies to help them manage their health as trust health care providers. This is surprising to organizations whose core business has been providing health care for decades; to organizations looking to extend healthcare-adjacent services and products, it’s a green light for opportunity.

Keep an eye on the proliferation of health care services and retail formats that channel health to consumers — who’d much rather “consume” health locally in their community, via one-stop shopping, being informed of personalized offers for healthy things and receiving digitally coupons to pay for them.