According to Walmart’s newest promotion, The Christmas Price Guarantee, “the greatest gift we can give our customers this holiday is great low prices on the things they want most.” In light of their recent announcement regarding expansion beyond primary care services, one wonders if this indeed is their greatest gift? Walmart was one of the first national companies to invest in retail clinics but has since dropped to third place with about 140 of them, well behind CVS Caremark’s nearly 550 Minute Clinics and Walgreens’ 355 Take Care clinics, according to data tracked by Tom Charland, CEO of Merchant Medicine, a Minnesota-based research and consulting firm. About 1,300 store-based clinics are open nationwide, he says.
With more than 3,500 stores in the U.S., Walmart leases space to independent clinic vendors, while CVS owns and staffs its Minute Clinics. Few centers operated by retailers have doctors on site and most hire nurse practitioners or physician assistants to deliver care. Failing to reach their proposed target of 400 new centers by 2010, Walmart revised its strategy to include partnering with hospital and healthcare systems.
According to Jonathan Linkous, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association, pharmacies and large retail chains with in-store pharmacies continue to look for a retail health clinic business model that offers an acceptable return on investment. Early services included relatively simple diagnostic services provided by an in-store physician, nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant. And several years ago, Walmart experimented with telemedicine services in some of its retail clinics in Texas.
Now, Linkous said, some retailers are looking at using remote patient monitoring technologies to track people with chronic diseases and disorders. Offering blood pressure, weight or other vital sign measurements and storing them for future tracking via an electronic database can help keep a customer loyal to the store where they buy their prescriptions, he noted. While loyalty is certainly one significant advantage, retail operators also have a compelling opportunity to engage patients in managing their healthcare.
With the sheer volume of stores, Walmart has the ability to draw customers for prevention and wellness activities, as well as, acute episodic management. Similar to the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living at Mall of the America, a diabetic patient could be assessed for proper foot care and transitioned to a nurse educator to learn more about preventive measures, wellness products and technology that could assist the individual living with this disease. Taking it one step further, personal health records could be introduced and demonstrated since they are being offered by a growing number of hospital and healthcare systems. And while capturing key vital sign measurements in a customer relationship management database represents an important first step, finding ways to link this information to a patient’s electronic health record would be even better. Armed with data from multiple points in the continuum of care, a patient’s multi-disciplinary care team then becomes better prepared to determine the most efficient next steps.
According to Forbes contributor, Tim Worstall, six Walton family members account for more than 30% of the nation’s wealth. Given their negotiating power on Pennsylvania Avenue, Wall Street – and hopefully – Main Street, Walmart’s greatest gift is to help patients acknowledge, engage and gain control of their healthcare.
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