Kroger eyes opportunities in senior-focused primary care, rolls out service in Atlanta clinics

Kroger is piloting value-based primary care clinics as it joins a growing list of retailers looking to cash in on the booming sector of senior-focused medical care.

The grocery chain has teamed up with Better Health Group, a provider network, to shift some of its in-store clinics, called The Little Clinic, into primary care centers for seniors, in addition to offering regular services.

Better Health Group is rolling out the value-based model at eight of Kroger's Altanta-area stores.

"The clinics today provide a full range of services from your acute, convenient care to primary care-like functions. About 60% of patients that we see in the clinic don't have an assigned or designated primary care provider. So, there's a huge opportunity just in general to serve patients and provide longitudinal care," said Jim Kirby, chief commercial officer for Kroger Health, in an interview with Fierce Healthcare.

"These particular clinics, most of the eight are in medically underserved areas. We thought that there was also a particular community-based need to serve these patients," Kirby said.

Kroger Health operates nearly 2,300 pharmacies across 35 states and 225 Little Clinics in nine states in those pharmacy locations. 

"It is comprehensive primary care. It would be very similar to what you would think about in going into your physician for primary care services. So, understanding what are all the diagnoses that seniors may have, focusing on prevention and some of the unique needs that seniors have, and then forming a care plan and following up with them proactively and making sure that they're getting the care that they need and all the recommended preventive screenings and services that that they should be engaged in for their age," Kirby said.

The new in-store primary care clinics will be a "gamechanger" for the senior population who needs more opportunities and access to care that is central and local to their communities, Kroger executives said.

Moving forward, Better Health Group will manage all aspects of the primary healthcare needs of seniors with Medicare, including those enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans.

"Medicare wants 100% of its payments, by 2030, to be under some sort of value-based care agreement. The writing is on the wall for all of healthcare. We wanted to be ahead of the game," Kirby noted. "Instead of acquiring a primary care company, like others are doing, we decided to look at our own assets and we can convert some of these clinics over and do value-based care within our in-store model."

Better Health Group applies the same value-based model at its 162 company-owned senior medical centers (VIPcare) and at the primary care practices of its 1,200-plus affiliated providers.

The national retailer has already begun enrolling seniors who will benefit from preventive care and personalized attention from a dedicated primary care provider. 

"These primary care clinics are different from others because you have a pharmacy that's on-site and on-premise. You have access to nutrition services through our dietitians and through digital tools that we have that provide better-for-you options for customers. Leveraging all of those tools together, you can get to a great collaborative model that's focused on optimizing outcomes and lowering cost," Kirby said.

The collaboration with Better Health Group marks Kroger’s and The Little Clinic’s entrance into value-based care. 

Based on the success of the program, Better Health Group and Kroger will launch the senior-care offering in other markets and in other Atlanta-area Kroger stores throughout 2024.

"There were a few markets that we were looking at and Atlanta rose to the top," Kirby said. "It has a favorable regulatory environment for us to be able to transition to this type of model. The clinics and the stores are strong performers and we had a strong leadership group there. And, it also aligned with where Better Health Group was wanting to expand as well."

Better Health Group’s value-based care model emphasizes frequent contact between doctors and their patients to identify diseases early when they’re easier to treat and to carefully manage chronic conditions. The approach also encourages regular health screenings and medication adherence. As a result of this intense approach, patients often have better health outcomes and require fewer hospitalizations, according to the company.

Kroger's senior-focusd primary care centers have a nurse practitioner-led model. "But we are adding physicians to the mix where patients who are complex or have specific needs can have access to a physician for care," Kirby said.

Kroger Health will be measuring the success of the primary care model based on how many seniors enroll in the service. "We're doing several community engagement efforts to make seniors aware of the opportunity for them to engage in primary care in our stores. We've hired somebody specifically for that purpose," Kirby said. "Better Health Group has a great playbook for how to engage community-based organizations and which organizations to work with? What sort of activations are the most impactful? Where you're going to have your strongest voice and opportunity to reach seniors? So that's the first key metric. Can we can we build this model and gain that demand from a senior population?"

As the model supports longitudinal care versus the acute convenient care model that Kroger Health has traditionally operated under, the organization also will be evaluating whether it can build long-term relationships with patients and bring them in for medical visits several times a year, he noted.