Matt Lowe, a project manager for a custom metal company, lives in Dallas, Georgia, less than a mile from the Walmart Supercenter where he does most of his grocery shopping.
When the store opened a new health clinic 2 weeks ago, he was eager to check it out.
“I’ve not used the medical services yet, but I’ve spoken with them, and I am definitely a fan of the upfront pricing structure,” explained Lowe, who’s lived in the region for 13 years.
“So the way I understand it is, if I am going in for a physical with labs, they’ll tell me before we start the cost of the exam and the cost of the lab work,” he told Healthline.
Lowe thinks the clinic will be a good thing for consumers.
“It creates a free-market alternative to the mess our healthcare system has become,” he said. “I mean, think about the last time you were in the hospital or doctor’s office. Did you know what things were going to cost before you agreed to treatment?”
He also thinks this will be good for Walmart.
“Because as it stands now,” he said, “Amazon can’t compete with it.”
Does Lowe plan to use the clinic for his healthcare?
“Yes, we will use it,” he said.
Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, has been dipping its toes in the healthcare waters in recent years with its care clinics.
These 19 clinics in Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas provide basic medical needs with a limited number of services in about 1,500 square feet of space in each store.
But this month, Walmart took a deeper dive when it debuted its first Walmart Health clinic in Lowe’s hometown in Georgia.
Unlike the company’s previously opened clinics, Walmart Health employs physicians along with nurse practitioners and other medical professionals.
It’s a full-service health facility that provides consumers with primary care, labs, X-rays, dental, hearing, psychological counseling, audiology, and other services.
The new facility in Dallas, which is 10,000 square feet in a stand-alone building connected to the main Walmart store, is the company’s first effort to hang an MD’s shingle in its outlets.
Marcus Osborne, the company’s vice president of health and wellness transformation, told Healthline the early reaction from consumers and the community has been positive.
“We are hearing from customers how much they appreciate having the center open and how convenient it is to be able to go to one place,” Osborne said.
He adds that the clinic is also getting positive feedback from clinicians who are grateful for the space to take care of the diverse needs of the Dallas community.
“We also are seeing a lot of foot traffic, customers who are intrigued and who want to know more,” he said.
But Osborne wouldn’t reveal how many patients have been seen since the clinic opened a couple weeks ago.
“We aren’t disclosing any numbers, but we have been very pleased with the response, and schedules have been full,” he said.
One of Walmart’s staples is to be accessible to low-income households.
And the Walmart Health clinics are no different.
All clients are welcome — even those who have no health insurance.
“Patients who receive care at our center will be able to use insurance, and the out-of-pocket copayments or cost-sharing incurred by those patients will depend on what coverage they have, as is the case with any other provider,” Osborne said.
“Walmart Health was designed to offer affordable, transparent pricing so the underinsured or uninsured — even insured — can choose the option that fits their needs, including cash payments. We also have financing options,” he noted.
The advantages of the Walmart Health clinic for consumers, Osborne says, include the affordability, transparent pricing structure, quality of care from local providers, and convenience of extended hours and all the services under one roof.
“We are partnering with local providers to deliver high-quality care,” he said, adding that the company carefully selected local partners based on a variety of criteria.
These criteria included “the right experience and reputation to deliver the quality of care our customers deserve; able to deliver the convenient experience Walmart Health delivers by serving walk-in customers, scheduled appointments, weekends and extended hours; and help us make Walmart Health accessible for all by serving insured and self-pay patients.”
It’s no secret this clinic is just the beginning of what Walmart hopes will be a permanent and widespread commitment to providing healthcare to its customers.
One Walmart official said last week that Walmart’s foray into healthcare is “serious” and “not a dabble.”
And the company seems to have the financial muscle to do it.
Walmart, whose reported net income for the quarter that ended July 31 was more than $3 billion,plans to open a second Walmart Health clinic early next year in Calhoun, which is in northern Georgia about 50 miles from Chattanooga, Tennessee.
If these two Walmart Health clinics succeed, the company is expected to expand to meet the vast health needs of aging baby boomers, Generation X, and millennials.
“The challenge is that too many people face barriers in accessing quality, affordable healthcare,” Osborne said. “What we are proposing is a solution to a problem that no one has yet solved. “
Osborne says Walmart is committed to making healthcare more affordable and accessible for customers in the communities Walmart serves without sacrificing quality.
“It’s what our customers need, and, more importantly, it’s what they deserve,” Osborne said.
He notes Walmart Health clinics will offer prices at about 30 to 50 percent less than what people are paying now.
Sean Slovenski, Walmart’s president of health and wellness, told Business Insider the goal of Walmart’s healthcare push is to do what Walmart’s Supercenter stores did for retail.
But when asked just how Walmart can afford to provide high-quality primary care and charge so much less than its competitors, Osborne was elusive.
“Our first priority is making healthcare more affordable,” Osborne said. “We’re leveraging our existing strengths in health and wellness and working with the right partners to ensure this value-based care model remains a strong business opportunity for Walmart.”
There’s also the question of how many doctors will be at Walmart clinics.
“Several on-the-ground health providers deliver quality services in the Walmart Health center,” he said.
It’s also not clear if the doctors in the clinics will all be general practitioners, or if there will be a variety of types of doctors in the clinics.
“The providers of the health services will determine the appropriate staffing, and there are a variety of physicians, nurse practitioners, and others delivering healthcare services in Walmart Health,” Osborne said.
When asked if it’s possible that these clinics could eventually include such specialized physicians as oncologists and cardiologists, Osborne stated:
“We designed the health center to meet the needs of the local community. In the future, as we learn how best to deliver the convenient, integrated care our customers want, we will determine if there are additional needs like women’s health, dermatology, and others.”
Dr. Amy Townsend is a family physician in Georgetown, Texas.
She says she’s become frustrated with what she calls the “corporatization of the healthcare system.”
She insists it typically isn’t pro-patient.
Townsend, a board member of Physicians for Patient Protection, says the Walmart venture could potentially just exacerbate this trend.
But she’s also taking a wait-and-see approach.
“If Walmart is placing board-certified physicians in these clinics, our organization will not have a big objection,” Townsend told Healthline.
“But all kinds of corporate entities are looking to get into the healthcare provider space,” she added. “It is concerning to me that many of these entities are profit-driven, not patient-centric. And they make no qualms about it. They’re in it for their shareholders.”
Townsend says corporate interests in medicine can lead to conflicts of interest and take the decision-making process out of the hands of the doctors.
“If I’m employed by someone who wants me to prescribe a certain medication, a certain product, will I choose what is best for the company or what is best for my patient?” she said.
“We go to medical school with this ideology, and we’re put in this position to help people and use the knowledge we gained in our 11-plus years of education,” Townsend said. “Doctors can lose their autonomy in places where medical decisions are not made by the physicians.”
Walmart isn’t alone in its ambitions in the healthcare space.
Its retail competitors, including Target as well Walgreens, CVS Health, and Rite Aid, have all jumped into the deep end of the healthcare pool.
The bottom line, of course, is there are millions and billions of dollars to be had.
But another big impetus is the growth of Amazon, the online giant that recently initiated an aggressive entry in the pharmacy sector.
Last year, Amazon purchased the online pharmacy PillPack for $1 billion in a deal that most certainly got the immediate attention of major drugstore chains as well as Walmart.
The move is the strongest indication yet of Amazon’s determination to be a major player in the healthcare industry.
But the brick-and-mortar retail and drugstores still have what Amazon doesn’t: face-to-face interaction with customers — unless you count Amazon’s bookstores.
“With a physical presence in almost every community across the country, we have the unmatched ability to meet consumers where they are and provide the care and services they need either face-to-face or with the unique set of virtual and physical delivery service capabilities that extends our physical presence in real-time to meet their needs.”
Walmart isn’t the first retail establishment to employ physicians in its in-store clinics.
Walgreens, which is the second-largest pharmacy chain in the United States, has multiple health clinics in its stores across the country, including clinics that already employ physicians.
Scott Goldberg, director of healthcare communications for Walgreens, told Healthline that approximately 400 Walgreens stores now offer retail clinic services for consumers with a wide range of services, including treatment of illnesses, minor injuries, and skin conditions.
Customers can also receive consultation on preventive methods and monitoring and management of ongoing health conditions.
These clinics are staffed by nurse practitioners, physician assistants, or both.
“We’ve collaborated with leading health systems and hospitals who run retail clinics — for patients with acute medical needs — inside our stores,” Goldberg said.
There are also three Partners in Primary Care clinics at Walgreens staffed by physicians that are currently open in the Kansas City area, he adds.
“The first two opened a year ago in October 2018. The third opened last week. Two additional locations are slated to open: another in Kansas City later this year, and one in Anderson, South Carolina, in 2020,” Goldberg said.
Walgreens has also announced a primary care collaboration with VillageMD.
“We are slated to open five Village Medical at Walgreens primary care clinics, staffed by physicians, in the Houston area,” Goldberg said.
Southwest Medical Associates also has four primary care clinics in Walgreens stores in Las Vegas. They opened earlier this month.
There are also 11 MedExpress urgent care operations at Walgreens clinics. These centers are physician-led with nurse practitioners and physician assistants also on staff.
The first two of the 11 locations opened in April 2017.
Walgreens announced a partnership this year with Microsoft for its “digital health corners” for customers who are facing chronic health issues.
Walgreens is also partnering with LabCorp to offer in-store blood work and blood tests. The company announced last year that it will open at least 600 LabCorp patient service centers at Walgreens stores across the United States over the next 4 years.
“With the healthcare services we offer, including primary care and urgent care as well as retail clinics for patients with acute medical needs, patients are benefiting from more convenient access,” Dr. Chet Robson, the acting chief medical officer at Walgreens, told Healthline.
“It is part of Walgreens’ ongoing commitment to create neighborhood health destinations that provide retail health services and patient care across the communities we serve,” he said.
CVS Health, the nation’s largest drugstore chain, operates more than 1,100 MinuteClinics, which are walk-in stations staffed by nurse practitioners.
The MinuteClinics currently focus on patients seeking basic services, like care for a cold and immunizations.
In an effort to substantially expand health services in stores, CVS Health recently launched HealthHUB, which caters more to everyday needs with a special focus on chronic disease management with services such as blood draws and sleep apnea assessments.
CVS Health tested the new clinics at three locations in Houston this year.
The plan is to have HealthHUB in 50 additional markets by the end of this year and 1,500 HealthHUBs nationwide by the end of 2021.
CVS Health also touts its relationship with medical care providers and notes the potential to add more of these clinics since it purchased Aetna, the health insurance company with more than 39 million customers, last November.
“By fully integrating Aetna’s medical information and analytics with CVS Health’s pharmacy data, we can develop new ways to engage consumers in their total health and wellness through personal contacts and deeper collaboration with their primary care physicians,” Merlo said in the November statement.
“As a result, we expect patients will benefit from earlier interventions and better-connected care, leading to improved health outcomes and lower medical costs,” he said.
In December 2015, CVS Health acquired all of Target Corporation’s 1,672 pharmacies and 79 retail clinics and is in the process of rebranding the locations as MinuteClinics.
Since 2014, Target has also enjoyed a partnership with Kaiser Permanente, one of the nation’s largest health systems, in which clinics in Target stores are staffed by Kaiser Permanente personnel.
Kaiser Permanente will staff the new clinics with licensed nurse practitioners and licensed vocational nurses. It will also have physicians available via telemedicine consultations.
The clinics will offer Target guests a broad array of services, including: pediatric care; women’s healthcare; monitoring and care for chronic conditions that include diabetes, cholesterol, and high blood pressure; basic dermatology services; and treatment for minor illnesses, such as strep throat, vaccinations, sinus pain, earaches, asthma, colds, and flu.