CVS Caremark Corp. recently announced that it will discontinue the sale of all tobacco products. President and CEO Larry Merlo said in a press release that CVS is evolving into a healthcare company and that to sell products known to be harmful to a person's health is antithetical to its mission. The company is estimated to lose $2 billion in tobacco sales due to the move, but Merlo has called the loss CVS's contribution to the larger issue of decreasing national healthcare costs.

Is this really a values-driven decision? This year, Fast Company updated its previous definition of the country's emerging economic period as “The Age of Flux," a time when best-laid plans are quickly disrupted and the need for new tactics is constant, to stress “the belief that a product or service can radically remake an industry, change consumer habits, and challenge economic assumptions.” Is the CVS strategy to stop selling tobacco products a disruptive attempt to improve consumer habits or an attempt to remake and reposition the retail pharmaceutical industry? With $2 billion at stake, it certainly is a challenging economic assumption. To make up that lost revenue means a shift in product or service offerings, so what will this new CVS become?

The delivery of healthcare products and services has become enormously competitive, in spite of the fact that cost risks and reimbursement uncertainties are embedded in this highly regulated field and driving the systemization of provider services. It is, however, this disruption in the time-honored practice of medicine that's creating openings for new tactical delivery methods, such as retail healthcare. Hospital-based health systems are also meeting the challenge by moving their ambulatory services out beyond their urban campuses, into the very convenient suburban blocks that CVS vetted 10 to 15 years ago. The sociometric data that long drove retail real estate decision-making is now so sophisticated that it can reveal a consumer’s health tendencies with corresponding zip-code-based spending patterns.

Conveniently located retail health centers are being developed to offer the promise of predictable managed care through an efficient, readily available, clinical consult, with the added bonus of selling applicable products. Is CVS’s healthcare model ready to emerge with product and service offerings as addictive as the lost $2 billion in tobacco products? Will those products and services offer improved health for all who are willing to shop for it? CVS, what does your sociometric data reveal about this redefined health consumer? You must have studied the data and have a plan in place.

Healthcare architecture, design, and facilities consultants should take note. We've all been trained to design for patient-centered clinical services, but consumer-based retail services will add a layer of competition not typically experienced in healthcare design. This competition will test our skills as designers to brand like never before and design a new path to wellness that's only been hypothesized but never fully measured. The importance placed on HCAHPS scores has started a conversation about how patients' perception of care measures up to their expectations, and how they report that experience. But do we yet know the proven metrics about how to stage a successful medical experience? Will the retail chains figure this out before the healthcare systems?

As an evidence-based designer, I, too, need sociometric data to map a variety of ambulatory experiences in order to design accountably. Retail healthcare has thrown down the gauntlet, and we in healthcare design have to launch from a baseline of knowledge that's just been given the opportunity to go mainstream. How shall we continue to build that knowledge and translate it for a more ambulatory consumer seeking health answers in Aisle 12? 

The Center for Health Design is asking these questions and building a database that informs tools and services to assist in the design of environments that heal. As a healthcare design professional reading this article, how will you respond to the redefined health consumer?