Walmart's first owned health clinic could mean big changes ahead for convenient care industry

As reported by DSN’s sister publication Retailing Today, Walmart has opened in Copperas Cove, Texas, its first owned healthcare clinic.

Labeed Diab, Walmart’s president of health and wellness, explained during a briefing in advance of its shareholder meeting that the new clinic is a way for the big-box retailer to provide convenient and almost free (i.e., $4 for employees) access to health care. And, because the retailer avoids the expense of having its associates visit other doctors, it can pass the savings along to customers with a reduced price of $40.

This real question here: “What would it mean for the industry if Walmart seriously jumped into the convenient care clinic business?”

There are currently about 1,600 convenient care clinics and researchers expect robust growth in the coming years. One projection provided by Marketdata Enterprises expects the number to reach 2,700 sites by 2016. No doubt that number could skyrocket if Walmart jumped into the market with both feet.

Just consider the fact that, as of April 30, Walmart operated more than 4,200 stores within the United States, most of which are Supercenters with more than 3,300 locations. Just a small — very small — fraction of its stores have currently have clinics.

Back in 2009, Walmart announced that it intended to contract with local hospitals and other organizations to open as many as 400 in-store health clinics over the next two to three years, but it had to close some locations. Today, Walmart’s website lists approximately 90 “Clinics at Walmart” in operation. Each of these medical clinics is owned and operated by an independent company that is not affiliated with Walmart.

The news that Walmart has opened its first owned healthcare clinic hardly comes as a big surprise. Back in 2011, Kalorma Information issued its report on the retail clinic industry, dubbed "Retail Clinics 2011: Market Assessment, Supplier Sales, Key Players and Trends," and noted that Walmart had sent out a request-for-information document to strategic partners, which was obtained by media sources.

The document indicated that Walmart planned to offer primary care services to its customers and sought a partner to help do that. Further statements indicated that the retailer intended to take advantage of healthcare reform and the possibility of millions of newly insured.

While it’s not entirely clear if this first owned healthcare clinic is a result of, or related to, that request-for-information, what is clear is that, if Walmart expands the concept, the convenient care industry could be in for a significant disruption.

We are certainly closely watching and, apparently, so are you. Soon after posting the article on the DSN site, it rose up the “most viewed” list of DSN articles with record speed.

To read more on Walmart’s shareholder meeting, click here.


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