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Wednesday, November 9th 2011

Dr. Walmart

NPR and Kaiser Health broke some news this morning about Walmart looking to dramatically expand their in-store healthcare services. And I do mean dramatically, with a goal of,

becoming the largest provider of primary healthcare services in the nation.

Retail primary care physician directed care is nothing new. The first one opened in 2000. But their promise has been largely unfulfilled and, while they may have found a nitch market, the idea of them redefining primary care or supplanting the traditional internist office appears at present as a pipe dream. I know consultants and the industry say differently but I’m of the opinion the retail clinic industry promoted itself as having grown further and achieved more than it has to date. But then again maybe Walmart can do differentially.

I’m not sure I’m convinced of the feasability of some of their goals. For instance, I’m not sure there’s major cost savings to be had in this model. Whatever this model turns out to be.

What it may do, and what I think everyone should be on board with, is expand access to care.

“It’s a really big deal,” says Bob Kocher, a former health policy adviser to President Obama. “We have a shortage of primary care and of access. If Wal-Mart comes in, that creates a lot more access in areas where it’s been hard to find a doctor. This could bring low prices and relaible quality in a way that we don’t really see right now.”

The population attracted to retail clinics, in stores like Walmart, is a population already largely underserved. Even if the cost of health care becomes less of a hurdle as the ACA is implemented, a serious venture into primary care services by a major player like Walmart, if played right, could really expand care to a population that would benefit from it.