Researching the status of rural healthcare in the United States is certainly eye-opening. Some would even say depressing – given the number of recent hospital closures and others having to get creative to avoid closing. Rural advocacy groups are mobilizing to sway members of congress to avoid making cuts to Medicare and support rural hospitals. Rural millennials are moving to urban and suburban areas, meaning some rural hospitals are contending with a demographics shift where it no longer makes sense to offer labor and delivery care. And hospitals are not the only ones struggling in rural communities. A study from 2014 showed that 16 percent of the independently owned rural pharmacies in the United States shut down between March 2003 and March 2018, leaving many rural residents without convenient access to prescription and non-prescription drugs.
What we typically learn when researching current challenges impacting rural communities, is that there sometimes seems to be a resolution waiting around the corner. For example, 15 years ago a rural resident might have been able to drive to a local boot store and find their favorite brand of boots. Five years later a new Walmart opened, boot store went out of business, our rural resident can’t find his favorite boots anymore. But today, thanks to high-speed internet and a myriad of great e-tailers, he can order his favorite boots online and get them in 2 days. It took a few years but…problem solved.
What resolution is waiting around the corner for our rural resident that must drive almost an hour to see his doctor? We think telemedicine and online pharmacies have a tremendous amount of growth potential in rural geographies. Any telemedicine service provider, as well as online pharmacies, should be, if they are not already, looking for ways to understand the challenges rural residents face when it comes to gaining access to quality healthcare. They should also be carefully evaluating proven methods to reach these people and let them know their options. And how can healthcare providers and pharmacies do a better job of reaching out to rural residents? We believe that partnering with a company that studies, analyzes, and specializes in reaching consumers in rural geographies is a great start.
Let’s explore further.
What industry currently stands at $2bn in revenue, employs 9,792 people, and saw 45% growth between 2012 and 2017?
If you guessed telehealth services, you’re correct. These numbers, reported by IBISWorld, point to a rapidly-expanding segment of the healthcare industry that’s poised to see even more growth as our population ages and as the landscape of hospitals and clinics shift over time. What does it mean for rural residents? It means that as hospitals and clinics close in rural communities, rural residents can use services like Teledoc to help bridge the gap. These online doctors are not meant to replace primary docs, but they can certainly help ensure that for minor illnesses, infections, dermatology, and behavioral health, rural residents won’t be required to drive long distances for care. These everywhere doctors are not merely a convenience but also very much a need in rural communities.
According to Prosper Insights & Analytics, 20% of rural consumers surveyed indicated they had shopped at Walmart for prescription drugs in the last 90 days, which is 67% higher than their urban counterparts. But when digging deeper to get to the reasons why rural consumers would choose Walmart, or any retailer for that matter, it really comes down to location and price. But what if location were no longer a factor?
And what if Walmart isn’t the lowest priced option? For online pharmacies like PillPack, now owned by Amazon, rural communities present opportunities to offer services to areas where the drive to the pharmacy isn’t as convenient. Everything they need, from vitamins, to contacts, to their everyday medications can be delivered right to their homes.
The Direct Mail Solution
Medications are not the only things being delivered to the homes of rural consumers. 74% of rural consumers surveyed indicated they read their mail every week. Compare this to only 44% who read magazines and 45% who read the paper. 20% of rural consumers are influenced by coupons for purchases; as a medium, it’s only surpassed by internet and word of mouth. In addition, according to recent numbers from the DMA, response rates for a mailing to a house list for direct mail was 5.1%, which is 750% higher than marketing email and paid search…and over 1000% higher than social media. For any online healthcare or pharmacy company looking to expand into rural areas, we recommend taking a closer look at potential opportunities in rural geographies and formulating a solid mailing strategy. As always, we are here to help. Call us today to learn more about partnering with Mspark to help make rural residents better aware of their healthcare and pharmacy options.
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RUPRI Center for Rural Health Policy Analysis, Rural Policy Brief, July 2018
IBIS World 2018
Prosper Insights & Analytics 2018
DMA Response Rate Report 2017