Mayo goes shopping for patients

  • Article by: WALKER MOSKOP , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 3, 2012 - 11:35 PM

At its Mall of America outlet, Mayo shops for patients.

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While their parents shopped for health care products, Edward Gonzalez Jr., 9, and sister Daniela, 11, of Brownsville, Texas, played games and colored.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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At Mall of America, the Mayo Clinic is tearing a page from the retail playbook: Get a shopper in for a health consultation and possibly win a patient for life.

Through its Healthy Living store and health clinic, Mayo is spreading the word about its growing list of services as it mulls an expansion at the nation's largest mall. Customers can stop in for a massage. Purchase a heart monitor. And if they're in need of organ transplant advice, the outlet now offers that, too.

The goal is to hook customers once they're in the door. A consultation can lead to a follow-up appointment with a Mayo health professional. And exposure to the mall's 40 million shoppers annually provides a vast pool of potential patients.

"This was a chance for us to do something a little different," said Jim Yolch, project administrator for Mayo Clinic Healthy Living.

The Healthy Living outpost opened at the mall last August. Customers can purchase basic services like acupuncture and lifestyle coaching or opt for specialized offerings like physical therapy. Last month, Mayo added organ transplant consultation.

Officials say services are quick and geared toward the busy shopper. Most appointments last no more than an hour.

Healthy Living's growing menu also comes as Mayo increases its heft throughout the state and the Twin Cities. Mayo snapped up Fairview Red Wing Health Services in June. And in the spring it partnered with Coborn Cancer Center in St. Cloud to share patient medical records with Mayo physicians.

If the Rochester-based health system chooses to expand at the mall next year, its facility could be anywhere from 10,000 to more than 100,000 square feet, with about 10 percent of it dedicated to retail, Yolch said. The rest of the space would be for wellness and preventative care. This would be part of a broader $220 million-plus expansion at the megamall.

By using retail, Mayo is raising awareness of its brand with area residents -- and the swarms of tourists that the Mall of America attracts, experts say.

"It's taking consumer-centric medicine to a whole new level," said Jean Abraham, an economist at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. It's "a novel strategy for trying to expand their referral network."

While the concept of medical clinics in retail settings isn't entirely new -- think CVS' MinuteClinics or Mayo's own Express Care -- Abraham said she is unaware of any clinics like Healthy Living.

The brightly colored outlet is at the mall's east entrance near Nickelodeon Universe. The outpost consists of two separate storefronts, one for the clinic and the other for the store.

'What is this?'

Rather than being greeted by a physician or a receptionist, visitors to the store are approached by a bubbly Kelly Lozinski, the retail manager.

Lozinski, a former sales manager at the TV shopping channel QVC, said the most common question customers ask when they walk in is: "What is this?"

Because the store sells everything from Mayo clothing to "active" video games, some are unclear about the concept. But Lozinski said Healthy Living's goal is to provide wellness information through its various services.

"We're here to educate. It's a learning environment," she said.

Jane Thorpe, 71, of St. Paul, visited Healthy Living for the first time Tuesday and signed up for an appointment with a dietitian. She'd received treatment in Rochester during the past year for an irregular heartbeat and an autoimmune disease and was happy to have more convenient access to Mayo care.

"If I need to follow up or talk to someone, I can talk to a dietitian at the mall," said Thorpe, who lives just 10 minutes away.

With the exception of organ transplant consultation, customers pay out of pocket for all services. For instance, if customers want to receive an assessment of their risk factors for heart disease, they pay $59 upfront and can send invoices to insurers later.

Slightly less than half of the appointments at the clinic result from mall visitors wandering in, Yolch said, and the rest come from targeted marketing efforts.

Mayo has been advertising the location in some weekly publications and bought shrink-wrap ads on light-rail cars. Still, most in the Twin Cities haven't heard of the outpost, Yolch said. Mayo plans to address that through stepped-up marketing efforts, which include buying ads in mainstream outlets.

Mayo's growing presence locally is good for patients, experts say.

"Everybody sort of knows Mayo will be here sooner or later," said James Toscano, an adjunct professor at Hamline University in St. Paul.

"I think we roll out the welcome mat for Mayo."

Walker Moskop • 612-673-4265

  • related content

  • Clinic dietitian Rose Prissel worked on a healthy-eating exhibit. A quick consultation at the mall can lead to a follow-up appointment with a Mayo health professional.

  • Claudia Gonzalez and her husband, Edward, of Brownsville, Texas, shopped for health products in the Mayo store.

  • The theory is that a retail mecca that sees 40 million people a year constitutes a vast pool of potential patients.

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