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The “retailification” of health care could be great news for rural Americans, making routine medical services more accessible and affordable in communities that are currently underserved.

Paul Schuhmacher, a managing director in the health care practice of the global management consultancy AArete, points to Dollar General’s partnership with mobile health provider DocGo as a potential game changer. Dollar General and DocGo plan to pilot several mobile clinics in Tennessee. If that project scales up, the retailer could wind up delivering health services to a broad swath of America where traditional provider groups are too far away and care is too difficult to get.

Dollar General, which opened its 19,000 store last month, in Joplin, Mo., operates in a lot of small rural towns with few other amenities. Schuhmacher noted that he grew up in such a town, Zanesville, Ind.

“It’s a town of 600 people where we don’t even have a stoplight or a gas station,” he said. “But we have a Dollar General.”

Those stores play a special role in communities like that, Schuhmacher says, noting that Dollar General does a great job at finding store locations that are convenient not only for people in those communities or specific towns, but for those living in surrounding areas as well.

“These stores function as true hubs for their areas from a retail standpoint, and it would seem they could work that way from a health care standpoint as well. People from fairly far away, even 30 minutes away, could still drive to these locations and be able to get health care services.”

That could be a big deal, he added, because rural populations tend to have older and aging populations, who generally ­underutilize health care services.

“I would expect to see these clinics prompt people to do things like visit doctors more regularly, getting preventive care. That might catch problems earlier and reduce hospitalizations.”

Dollar General’s move comes as a number of retailers are investing in health care services. CVS Health’s deal to buy primary care center operator Oak Street Health for about $10.6 billion (see story on page 1) is a great recent example. Walmart is opening health outlets that offer everything from dental care to checkups in some of its Supercenters. Kroger Co. is expanding its health care services and promoting “Food as Medicine,” and West Des Moines, Iowa-based Hy-Vee has its own mobile clinics that already serve rural communities in its markets.

All of this activity has the potential to be very disruptive to incumbent medical centers and doctors. Schuhmacher expects that consumers will gravitate toward the more convenient retail locations for checkups and other routine care, while hospitals will handle more complex cases.

“Competition will also be helpful, reducing health care costs and improving access in a way that makes patients healthier through the shift towards more preventative care.”