Premium builds battery

BY Barbara White-Sax

Research from the Freedonia Group indicates that the mature battery category is seeing modest topline growth largely due to a shift in the product mix toward premium batteries. Growth also is being driven by an increased proliferation of battery-dependent devices in the home, from toothbrushes to glucose monitors.

Alkaline batteries still dominate the consumer primary battery market, accounting for 84% of demand, according to the Freedonia Group. Alkaline batteries also are expected to record solid gains in consumer applications through 2015.

"Retailers that are getting the best category growth are giving more space to longer-life premium alkaline batteries," said Kip Olmstead, marketing director for Duracell. The company recently launched Duracell with Duralock technology that guarantees storage for seven to 10 years.

Energizer also is concentrating on the premium alkaline business. "We now offer more powerful batteries that not only last longer, but also have a longer shelf life," said Lou Martire, VP trade development for Energizer. "Energizer Max batteries with Power Seal Technology hold their power up to 10 years on shelf. Our Energizer Ultimate Lithium batteries are now even stronger, lasting up to nine times longer than Energizer Max in digital cameras."

While the premium segment of alkaline batteries is growing fast, Sprectrum Brands’ Rayovac is playing the value card and is seeing the most significant increases in the category. "Value is winning in the marketplace," said Jim Heidenreich, VP North American sales at the company. Rayovac’s alkaline batteries are priced about 15% below competitors, a position that has led to new sales, repeat sales and greater distribution.

The lithium segment, designed for use in high-drain digital cameras, has shrunk as digital cameras are used less frequently. Rechargeables, which have about a 5% dollar share, are flat but could rebound with better consumer product education.

Olmstead said a shift to longer-life batteries doesn’t mean less profit for retailers since consumers aren’t necessarily purchasing fewer products. "Even though batteries are lasting longer, retailers can still sell batteries at a profit. Innovation is what will drive the category, and longer-life batteries are what the customer wants," he said.

Olmstead and Martire said the key to a profitable battery category is display since 65% to 70% of category sales are impulse. "The more retailers understand and embrace the impulse nature of the category, the better their sales," Olmstead said. "Display is what drives this category. We can see strong dollar growth in the category when retailers make a concerted effort to get the category right. It is not a commodity business."


The article above is part of the DSN Category Review Series. For the complete Battery Buy-In Report, including extensive charts, data and more analysis, click here.


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Insurers turn to retail, urgent care clinics to keep members out of emergency rooms


Shifting patients away from hospital emergency rooms and into retail-based and urgent care walk-in clinics can significantly lower healthcare costs, improve access to care and reduce the impact of such chronic diseases as diabetes and hyperlipidemia, two health benefits experts asserted in a recent online presentation.

In a webinar titled "How Retail and Urgent Care Clinics Can Be a Win-Win for Health Plans and Their Members," the two experts — Susan Menendez, director of strategic provider relationships for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, and Tom Charland, CEO of health consulting firm Merchant Medicine — laid out a strong case for walk-in clinics as a powerful tool to reduce expensive visits by health plan members to emergency rooms and provide an accessible professional care alternative for millions of Americans living in areas facing a shortage of primary care physicians. Such clinics also can extend a local health system’s reach within a community as part of an accountable care organization, provide a medical home for some patients and make patients more responsible for their own health, they said.

Retail and urgent care clinics, Charland said, are "expanding the scope of services" they offer walk-in patients, providing "an alternative to primary care." And health plan payers, he said, are taking notice. Increasingly, they’re looking to clinics to play a role in improving patient access to health services, lowering costs for routine and preventive care, and serving as ad hoc medical homes for patients "where there’s an extreme shortage of primary care physicians,"he noted.

Given "the hours, the locations, the consistency of service," Charland said, "I personally believe that walk-in medicine has done more for patient-centric behavior and patient satisfaction — and the focus on patients as customers — than anything since doctors made house calls." Charland attributed the rise in retail and urgent care clinics to "medical providers acting like merchants, and acting like they want patients to come back and have a positive experience."

"It’s no longer built around the provider, or providers’ hours or locations," he added. "It’s built around the patient."

To this point, however, retail and urgent care clinics have followed different growth tracks. Although urgent care has seen steady gains over the past decade, the retail clinic market experienced "a leveling off in 2008 and 2009, when people were trying to figure out what was going on, and it’s only just recently that MinuteClinic, under CVS’ guidance, has decided to start opening new clinics," Charland said.

Nationally, the use of retail clinics saw healthy gains from 2006 to 2009, according to a study from Rand Corp., from 1.48 million total patient visits to roughly 6 million. "But those figures still pale in comparison to ER and regular physician visits," noted Atlantic Information Services in a report. "An estimated 117 million ER visits and 577 million visits to doctors’ offices are made each year."

Nevertheless, said Charland, "these clinics are here to stay" as health plans, payers and patients incorporate them into the nexus of care. He also predicted "a lot more cooperation" from doctors as "the changing economic model is starting to change their behavior from being able to do as many procedures as you can, to getting that procedure in the spot where it can be done with the highest quality at the lowest cost. And if that does take over, I think we’ll see walk-in clinics start to be integrated into more of these ACOs and clinically integrated networks."

Although most retail clinics "have yet to break even," Charland added, the profit picture is improving as operators have learned to "smooth out some of the seasonality" of their business by broadening their menu of services and as patient traffic has picked up. "Now that these clinics are at break-even, we’re going to start to see some of the operators open more clinics," he predicted.


The need among health plan payers to curb the rising costs of emergency room care for non-emergency health problems has become increasingly urgent, Menendez said. "We have seen our costs for emergency room services continue to increase over the last several years," said the Blue Cross Blue Shield strategist. "We know that thousands of patients visit crowded emergency rooms for non-life-threatening conditions that we believe can be treated very cost-effectively and efficiently in urgent care centers. And we know that a visit to an emergency room can cost up to 10 times more than visiting an urgent care center … [at] nearly $1,500," she said.

In response, BCBS purchased a stake last year in FastMed Urgent Care, the largest urgent care clinic provider in North Carolina. "In those pockets of the state where we have primary care shortages, this type of model is very attractive to us," said Menendez. "We know that primary care shortages in North Carolina will only worsen in 2014 and beyond. So we’re looking now at solutions around primary care, as well as having options other than the local hospital for these members."

Menendez said the Blues launched a project in 2010 "to look at these ER costs and services, and really try to understand what is driving members going to ERs. What are the behaviors and the most common diagnoses that members go to ERs for?"

ER-use rates are higher in rural areas of the state, she said, at rates of "around 200 per 1,000 members, and that’s incredibly high," versus about 140 visits per 1,000 members living in urban areas. In addition, BCBS knows that "women of childbearing years and young males have the highest ER rates. We’re trying to drill down into that and understand why."

The Blues tracks a list of 15 to 20 diagnoses that drive the most nonemergency ER visits, including headaches, back pain, sore throats, urinary tract infections and upper respiratory infections.

One big reason for the high ER utilization rates: the shortage of primary care physicians, coupled with the fact that many residents in North Carolina don’t have a regular doctor to visit for treatment and counseling, even for common conditions. And again, BCBS members in rural areas — including "some pockets of the state where the only option for receiving nonemergent care is the local hospital," Menendez said — are the least likely to have a primary care physician. "That’s very concerning to us, given some of the health crisis issues we have today."

What’s needed is a broader, more comprehensive approach to providing health services that encourages patients to make better use of other care options like retail clinics and urgent care centers. To that end, BCBS invested in FastMed, a network of 26 urgent care centers across North Carolina. The insurer also began a pilot project with several employer groups to help educate their workers on alternative care sites like clinics.

"We believe that providing access to additional clinics in North Carolina can help us achieve that reduction in ER visits," Menendez said.

Indeed, shifting patients away from the ER and into retail or urgent care clinics in the state would yield significant cost savings. "An overall 5% shift in ER to urgent care utilization would result in about a 74 cent-per-member-per-month savings, and that translates into almost $8 million annually,"she said.

BCBS of North Carolina and FastMed now co-sponsor community events like health fairs, wellness and prevention events, and blood-pressure checks. "We did a huge voucher mailing in mid-November to members who live close to a FastMed location, waiving co-payments for those members. And we continue to work together to identify short- and long-term strategies around strategically placing new clinics across the state where we have high ER costs and inappropriate utilization.

"We know that if we can get these members who don’t have primary care physicians into that [clinic-based] primary care space, and get them linked into preventive and wellness programs, we can do incredible things to head off such chronic diseases as diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular problems — all the things that we are so struggling with here in North Carolina due to environmental factors," Menendez added.


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Docs outweigh smart device research for Rx intel, but mobile is mecca for savvy shoppers

BY Michael Johnsen

Smart device usage has become an active part of in-store shopping. According to a recent poll of Accent-Health smart device owners, nearly 3-out-of-5 have used their phone or tablet to aid in product selection while shopping in-store. However, consumers are more likely to research their next TV on their mobile device than their prescription medication. According to AccentHealth VP market research, Natalie Hill, "When it comes to medical treatment, healthcare professionals remain the most trusted source for information. Of those viewers using smart devices in-store, only 16% report doing so to investigate Rxs or OTCs." Consumers using mobile devices in-store are most often in search of savings, with the majority (91%) comparing prices online or at other stores while shopping.

As retailers strengthen mobile strategies, it is not surprising to find that half of consumers surveyed own a retailer app. Of those, more than three-quarters report having an app for a pharmacy or a mass merchandiser with pharmacy.

Mobile apps are doing much more than just displaying products for sale. While app features vary by retailer, 71% of respondents indicate they use their apps to receive discounts/coupons; store locator searches, shopping, and loyalty card/rewards access follow as the next most commonly used features. Given the investment retailers are making in app development and benefits to the purchasing process, it is not surprising that app usage is reported to increase in the future.

Among non-users of retailer apps, nearly half indicate they would be likely to download an app in the future. Among users, three-quarters report they are likely to increase their frequency of use or use new features. Cost-savings seekers will continue to fuel app usage; however, significant interest in less commonly used tools — such as live expert chatting, barcode scanning and Rx management — are expected to contribute to growth in app use.

Patient Views is a consumer insights feature that appears in every edition of DSN magazine, as well as in the daily e-newsletter DSN A.M.

For the latest Patient Views, click here.


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