In an excellent new piece for HealthLeaders, E. Preston Gee asks an fascinating question with wide ranging implications for health care: “What if the mass merchandising giants like Wal-Mart or Target got into the healthcare delivery business in a big way?”

Highly efficient, consumer friendly, and tech-savvy companies like Wal-Mart and Target stand in sharp contrast to health care delivery. Many health strategists, including myself, have noodled on what it would take for hospitals and clinics to adopt consumer-focused, competitor-savvy practices of high performing industries like these “big box” retailers.

As Mr. Gee notes, the big retailers may never enter health care but that is beside the point. Health care providers must adapt to the new market realities. Employers and other demand-side players expect an end to the inefficiency, poor quality, and high error rates that plague much of health care delivery. After providing thoughtful advice on how they can adapt, Mr. Gee calls on health care executives to “lead their organizations into and through this new era of heightened expectations and emerging market-driven dynamics.”

Preston Gee has written widely on market-driven, consumer-oriented strategies in health care. His latest book is Service Line Success: Eight Essential Rules. It shows how provider execs can apply the principles of service line management to meet tough market challenges. Service line / product line management is proven and often profitable in other sectors but rare in health care.