Walmart seems to be pushing its way into the healthcare business, and while some might not want to get their throat swabbed at the same place they get their cotton swabs, others feel that it might not be such a bad idea. There has not been much in the news about it, but the big box retailer has been surreptitiously purchasing primary care locations in South Carolina and Texas.
Walmart is already home to about 100 acute care clinics at various stores throughout the country but these clinics are leased and operated by other healthcare entities. It is evident that Walmart is after a larger piece of the healthcare pie and it does not appear that the company is positioning itself in a manner similar to that of Walgreens and CVS, but it seems to be edging its way towards being a major player in the primary healthcare arena.
Some think it is a good thing, especially in rural areas where the medical pickings are slim and costs can be astronomical. Others, like Dr. Robert L.Wergin of the American Academy of Family Physicians, are a little more concerned about the idea. Dr. Wergin cautions that retail clinics might not be the best choice for handling chronic or complex medical issues. Instead, he advises, a Walmart clinic might be appropriate as the entry point for treatment. He believes patients with complicated health issues should be directed to a primary care physician for more specialized treatment.
Some might question this sudden move by Walmart to delve into the healthcare business, but it may not be all that sudden. At a January 2013 conference, Walmart Vice President, Marcus Osborne told attendees that Walmart had plans to offer primary health care services within five to seven years. Osborne later tried to retract the statement but it looks like he may have been speaking the truth.
Some think it might not be such a bad idea, but most people want to know why Walmart, already established as a retail giant, is attempting to break in to the healthcare business. Public perception is that Walmart specializes in selling merchandise not healing bodies. It seems the company wants to cash in on the billions of dollars potentially available in the healthcare arena. Healthcare profits will continue to grow while retail profits may be declining due to online sales.
It also seems that they have the advantage of scale as well as millions of potential patients coming through the door every day. The benefit to consumers would be the ease of access and the ability to get healthcare at affordable rates. While many might scoff at the idea of Walmart becoming a player in the healthcare field, it is not actually that far-fetched.
The success will depend on Walmart’s ability to grasp the nuances of healthcare provision and to assume the appropriate role within the healthcare continuum. While many may find it difficult to imagine going to Walmart for cat food and a physical exam, Walmart in the healthcare business might not be such a bad idea.
Opinion by Constance Spruill