Ten years ago, the idea of going to Walmart for a primary care check up would have seemed completely foreign. Walmart, as the largest American employer, previously seemed to limit itself when it came to health care. Currently, it is branching out into the discount drug industry, owning roughly 100 retail clinics and working in conjunction with a few large hospitals. Now it appears that they’re ready to branch out with more clinics. Since they already have a number of clinics, it begs the question: why are many major television networks and newspapers only now showing alarm over the idea of Walmart becoming a serious contender in the healthcare market? There are several reasons: first, the clinics that Walmart are now endorsing are completely owned by them. Furthermore, they are being branded as “one stop shops” for primary care. Second, the new clinics are run solely by nurse practitioners and are open longer and later than their competitors (such as, private practice physicians), thus launching a full front assault on the family medicine practitioner. Thirdly, due to the reach of the company, its potential as a disruptive innovator and giant in the industry is unparalleled. Experts are now saying that Walmart can single handedly change healthcare as we know it.
What does this mean for us as medical students, soon to be working in the medical field? It seems to me that the greatest thing that Walmart is offering customers is choice. Rather than simply offering healthcare at a lower cost, they are offering customers a simpler way of dealing with their health concerns. They also seem to be veering away from the procedural based medicine that physicians seem to practice currently. Instead, patients are allowed to buy doctor visits in bulk— thus the “retail” if you will. Though this inevitably means more competition for contenders, it may also prove useful. With cheaper, more readily accessible primary care, emergency rooms will be less full with repeat offenders. People who would greatly benefit from primary intervention (those suffering from diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol) –those who typically slip under the radar due to lack of insurance – could get covered for a cheap cost. Finally, extraneous hospital costs would be cut down, allowing patients a certain amount of control over insurance and their insurance provider. With Walmart entering the industry, other companies will be forced to offer more competitive and reasonable rates.
Who knows, Walmart might be the thing to make healthcare equitable in this country.