Will Walmart Be Your New Doctor?

Millions of Americans don’t have health insurance, and many of them are Walmart shoppers. Heck, many of them are Walmart employees. The solution? Walmart is opening 400 more “health clinics” in the next 2-3 years. Eventually, there will be over 2,000 of these clinics.

The intention of the clinic is to keep people out of the emergency room and inside the Walmart, according to the Daily Herald.

Ledlie [ senior director of Wal-Mart's health business development] said its in-store clinic operators found that more than half of the customers who used the clinics said they had no health insurance, and nearly 15 percent said they would have gone to an emergency room if the clinic was not there.

“That was the hypothesis, but to see that proven out in the data really, to us, felt like this was the right time to go forward in a bigger way,” Ledlie said.

Hastings said keeping customers out of emergency rooms makes sense for Wal-Mart, whose lower-income shoppers are being squeezed by high gasoline prices and a slowing housing market.

An unexpected emergency room trip could drain a shopper of dollars they would otherwise spend at Wal-Mart, he said.

Ledlie said the clinics fit the idea of “one-stop shopping” — a customer who has been treated for a sore throat can then fill a prescription at a Wal-Mart pharmacy and buy everything from chicken soup to cough drops before leaving.

That’s oddly horrifying. —MEGHANN MARCO

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  1. mopar_man says:

    Oh wow. I can just imagine the lawsuits that are going to come of this. It isn’t bad enough that doctors that work at most hospitals can’t properly diagnose something but the ones that can’t even get work at hospitals/clinics are going to be diagnosing people at Wal-Mart.

  2. ptkdude says:

    This is starting to sound an aweful lot like vertical integration.

  3. TVarmy says:

    I think their motives are a bit creepy, but so long as it is run properly, I think this is ultimately a good thing because many walk-in clinics are very stressed, and a new place in town will speed up the rate at which people get care.

    I wonder what this will do about the malpractice insurance situation that’s causing doctors to move to big cities and out of rural areas because small practices can’t afford to pay the insurance? Will they all become Wal-Mart doctors who are encouraged to cut corners for the bottom line?

  4. TVarmy says:

    @ptkdude: Walmart’s been doing that for a while. They not only sell stuff at low margins for high volumes, but they “encourage” their suppliers to lower the cost of their products, cutting in to their margins, sometimes making the suppliers sell to WalMart at a loss just to keep shelf space.

    They’re just moving down the line and trying to control their customers more with the beginnings of WalMart banks and WalMart clinics. Once they have WalMart schools and WalMart funeral homes, they will officially own their customers from cradle to the grave.

    The only reason I like this step is because I think we need more venues for health care, and it’s very expensive in this country. I’d rather the government come out with a national health plan, but that won’t happen so long as conservatives fight it.

  5. TVarmy says:

    Does anyone know how much more WalMart needs to do before they are declared a monopoly and need to be split in an anti-trust lawsuit like Bell was?

  6. crnk says:

    @mopar_man: ???
    What is this about doctors at hospitals who cannot diagnose things correctly? I haven’t seen any story or know of anyone with issues like that, other than a few scattered news stories and a cousin with significant health problems that have never been resolved. Not bad considering the MILLIONS of ER visits every year.

    Anyway, your point is total fabrication and is now moot, but there is a good reason to be cautious about the qualifications of those who work at walmart, since this is a company bent on saving every single dollar and has cut corners on wages and employees before…

    I wonder if the wal-docs will get health coverage, or if they will just be hourly with no benefits like everyone else.

  7. TinaB says:

    Waitwaitwait, Walmart has clinics? Are they run by rats?

  8. slapstick says:

    I would be willing to bet that the majority of people working in Wal-Mart’s clinics will be nurse practitioners or physician assistants.

  9. Cap'n Jack says:

    That’s right, because I always like to have my cheap foods and electronics located as close to the health clinic as possible.

    Also, this will probably result in even MORE rats and vermin attracted to the medical waste. My company’s office was in the same building as a clinic and a dentist’s office, and we had the worst rat problem I’ve ever seen in an office.

  10. jay_swift says:

    I think this is a great idea. My employer has a clinic on campus too. I get low-cost insurance from my employer because they keep most of the business in house. Additionally, they use electronic medical records so I can view my own health information online and print them to take to a doctor when I need to.

    Imagine if all of the Walmart clinics were linked together and you never had to fill out paperwork after the first time. The pharmacy could also be linked up to the clinic. This would remove all of the errors caused by paperwork/transcription mistakes.

    Walmart is in a good position to have their own medical insurance.

  11. facted says:

    @slapstick: This is actually true from what I have read about these clinics. They’re not MD’s, they’re NP’s. If they feel they need to send you up the chain, they can, but basically, you’re seeing an NP.

  12. This is old news. Meijer stores are doing this already, have been doing this for quite awhile now. In the case of Meijer stores (dunno about Walmart)the clinic is not owned or run by the store. It is owned and run by a health care company, specifically Arcadia in the case of the one’s in the Meijer stores.

    The clinics in Meijer stores don’t have doctors and they’re not fully equipped like a doctor’s office. They have an LPN and a CMA on staff and they do just about everything except broken bones, chest pains, stomach pains. They can even write prescriptions.

  13. mopar_man says:

    What is this about doctors at hospitals who cannot diagnose things correctly?

    Happens all the time at the hospitals in the UP of MI.

  14. @crnk: I’ve been misdiagnosed by ER doctors for what it’s worth.

    @TVarmy: I wish someone in our government would figure out that there’s no way to lower the cost of health care if there simply aren’t enough doctors and nurses. Until something gets done about the quality of public education and the cost of higher education health care costs will continue to rise.

  15. ElizabethD says:

    I don’t see the big deal. CVS is already doing this, too. There are way too few (in my admittedly limited experience) walk-in medical clinics, with limited hours; and too many people who simply need a Rx for an antibiotic or something but don’t have insurance. The more the merrier. And yes, I believe nurse-practitioners and physician’s assistants will be the ones staffing these, with consulting doctors on call.

  16. shdwsclan says:

    So what….they are now somehow running a chinese prostitution ring for doctors and nurses so they now work directly inside walmart ?

  17. Designersheets says:

    They have these already in jackson,ms and the surrounding areas. I think that they are really great for the working poor around here. Yes there really are still people making 5 bucks an hour or less. I know people who make like 3 at a restaurant, they have to live off tips. The state supplied health care program for kids doesnt apply during the summer. Only when their in school. And the state medicare prog. has almost gone bankrupt several times.(I think the should use that swelling tobacco fund for it, but they won’t pull their head out of where the sun don’t shine, but that’s a different story altogether) It’s a cash business, with a big sign listing the prices of each service, most stuff less then 40$ BTW it’s cleaner and nicer looking then the local ER which is really gross.

  18. facted says:

    @jay_swift: I completely agree those are all great things (esp. the electronic medical records). That doesn’t necessarily mean that the clinic itself is providing great medical care which is kinda being overlooked here.

    The ER’s in the US are overstreched and underfunded, but the solution isn’t necessarily to open up clinics all over the place with poorly qualified personal. There is a reason ER docs go through 4 years of medical school and 4 years of residency.

  19. Wasabe says:

    This sounds similar to what Farmacias Similares does in Mexico (it’s even been called the Wal-Mart approach to health care), although the clinics there are funded by a non-profit association established by the company’s founder. From a Harvard Business School case on the company:

    An integral component of Farmacias Simi was the medical clinics that were attached to all but the smallest stores. The typical format was a waiting room with from 5 to 10 seats, with a door at the back leading to the doctor’s office that doubled as an examination room. On the wall of the waiting room a sign indicated that the medical office “did not handle medical emergencies, give injections or dress wounds.” It was a family doctor’s office, for primary health care consultations. The wall also displayed the names of the attending physicians and the number of their official license to practice medicine. Usually, each office had two doctors, one covering the morning shift from 9am to 3pm and the other covering from 3pm to 9pm. Patients did not make appointments. The doctor saw patients on a first-come first-served basis, for a flat fee of P$20, or just under $2. The treatment for a common ailment such as conjunctivitis could cost a total of P$79 (P$20 for the doctor’s appointment, P$59 for two different types of eyedrops), less than $8.

  20. etinterrapax says:

    I’m torn. On the one hand, I think it could be great. On the other, I object to giving Wal-Mart money, period. I also object to waiting in lines, and I’m sure that the lines will be fracking hideous, just like at any ER. So I guess that as long it’s used properly by anyone but me, it might not suck as completely as everything else Wal-Mart touches, but I know that the odds of people using it properly and the store running it properly are about a million to one, so it’ll just be another sort of sad thing about Wal-Mart in five years or so.

  21. tourpro says:

    For me, it’s often a hassle to go to Walmart for simple errands. On the other hand, it is even more of a hassle to schedule a physician’s appointment or go to the emergency room for minor stuff.

    Taking all qualitative issues out, this would be a more efficient distribution of services. It would allow the hospitals to concentrate on critical care which they are more suited to do. If the pricepoint were right, one could simply use their “traditional” insurance coverage for catastrophic situations only. Sort of like only having liability insurance for the car.

  22. Youthier says:

    @mopar_man: High five! ER doctors sucking happens in the LP of Michigan too!

  23. usmeekly says:

    when is walmart going to start holding general elections?

  24. freakinalex says:

    I barely trust Huntsville Memorial Hospital, let alone the local Wal-Mart.

  25. I read in a different article about this issue that something like 90% of doctor visits deal with 8 basic illnesses, things like flu and ear infections and bronchitis and strep, things that are fairly easy to diagnose and simple to treat (or may not need treatment at all — just the Official Medical Person saying “fluids and bed rest”).

    If those 90% of visits could be more efficiently cycled through (and a NP or PA is more than qualified to treat those — your average MOM knows what it is before the doctor confirms in most kiddie illnesses!), that would free up doctors, equiptment, money, and time to work on the 10% of visits that truly need a lot more attention.

    And most parents would probably be DELIGHTED if when Junior has his Yearly Bout of Obvious Strep Throat they could breeze through a clinic with the clinic nurse in 10 minutes to get the test rather than sitting 30 to 40 minutes in a waiting room to see the doctor’s nurse to get the test.

    In some parts of the country, it’s already the norm to go to “urgent care” for routine illnesses since doctors are too overbooked to get in. And in theory, having low-cost clinic care for the poor in stores that will probably be closer to their homes than doctor’s offices or urgent care clinics will allow them to get earlier routine care for minor illnesses, earlier notification of major ones when the clinic nurse kicks them up the chain (here they all have to have a doctor on staff (although not on site) who can snag the serious cases and get the patient into the appropriate treatment/hospital/whatev), and fewer ER visits for routine illnesses or routine illnesses run amok.

    I’m sure from the doctors’ POV it’s less than ideal, and I’m sure some things will be missed. But there are massive holes in health care in this country that nobody’s trying real hard to fill, and store clinics could do wonders to fill some of the more gaping ones.

    On the flip side — give it a separate entrance. It’s icky enough to get coughed on in the doctor’s waiting room … don’t make me do it while I”m shopping!

  26. facted says:

    I agree with some of the other posters that there are many, many visits to the ER that are simple colds, strep throats, etc…The issue is not that the ER shouldn’t be seeing them (they really shouldn’t). What’s happened is that the ER has become primary care for a good # of people who don’t have a regular physician. These people should be seeing their regular doctor, not a WalMart clinic NP who hasn’t been trained for years in the art of triaging patients and figuring out who needs more tests and who can go home and sit on a couch for a few days.

  27. itonix says:

    I agree with what @Eyebrows McGee summed up. I can afford the real doctor but hate the crowded waiting rooms where you spend 90% of time at inconvenient time of day. When I have cold sore or suspect bacterial infection a simple test by a NP/RN can should get me meds in 10 min.

  28. B says:

    Sounds like synergy to me. Wal-mart conveniently “forgets” to remove recalled food item from shelves, such as tainted peanut-butter. Customers get sick, go to Wal-mart for treatment.

  29. nijon99 says:

    Just out of curiosity, how many people dream of getting a medical degree and going to work in a Wal-mart?

  30. hoot550 says:

    On the one hand, this seems like a good thing. Having been without insurance at one time in my life, it’s not that the ER is the first choice. It’s that when you call doctors to try to be seen for something simple like strep, as soon as you say you don’t have insurance, it’s like a door slams. From my experience the doctors are willing to treat you for little or nothing if you have no insurance and talk to them about your situation.

    For example, once I managed to penetrate the receptionists and speak to the doctor, the cost of having my child seen went from $300 to $40. Plus the doctor even called the pharmacy to see what would cost us the least amount of money and still cure the infection.

    Unfortunately, if you need to be seen, the ER *has* to treat you. For some, there is just no other choice. Urgent Care facilities are great, but sometimes without insurance they can also be expensive. Were there no other option and my child were sick, we’d absolutely be in the ER.

    I just wish it was some entity other than Wal-Mart doing this. There is no reason, in a country as wealthy as ours, that people should not be able to see a doctor when they’re sick.

  31. roamer1 says:

    @solareclipse2: Here in ATL, the major drugstore chains (well, CVS and Walgreens anyway; Eckerd-soon-to-be-Rite-Aid is still an utter mess) are getting into the clinic game, too.

    IMO, there’s certainly a place for walk-in clinics, given the dearth of them in many areas; it’s just the fact that the Bentonville Beast is getting into the game (even if the clinics themselves are operated by third parties, as appears to be the case) that scares me.

  32. mopar_man says:

    Here’s my conspiracy theory:

    Sick people go into Wal-Mart, healthy people get sick because of the sick people strolling around, more customers for Wal-Mart’s clinic and pharmacy.

  33. @roamer1:

    I agree, hearing “Jimmy, let’s take you to Walmart to see the physician” is frightening.

    My initial take on the article was that the quality of care or the qualifications of the medical personal on staff would be in question. My wife works in a care clinic in a Meijer store which is how I know so much about these things. I’m proud to say my wife was top of her class with a 4.0 GPA as a CMA but she still has the stigma of going to work at a clinic in a retail store, although she doesn’t work for the store.

  34. “IMO, there’s certainly a place for walk-in clinics, given the dearth of them in many areas”

    My absolute favorite doctor’s office EVER had a triage nurse who you talked to before you even signed in when you were a walk in, so you would IMMEDIATELY be shunted to the “simple ear infection/flu/nasty cough” line, or the “probably strep, needs a test,” place or the “doctor needs to see this” waiting area. You didn’t fill out paperwork until AFTER you’d been triaged, and if you were a simple case, you barely had time to finish the paperwork before you were in with the nurse practicioner. And if you were a “doctor needs to see,” the triage nurse could order up likely tests while you were waiting to get into the doctor so he’d already have some test info by the time he saw you. In this fashion the nurse properly identified and ran the appropriate tests for mono within 15 minutes, and it only took the doctor 5 to confirm once he saw me and my tests. And then the nurse had already done my admit paperwork (I had to be hospitalized for it) by the time the doctor was done seeing me!

    These walk-in in-store clinics seem to fulfill need #1 and maybe #2. And while I adore my current doctor, I spend an inordinate amount of time sitting in the waiting room reading while waiting to be seen for a routine sinus infection so they can say, “that’s nasty, here’s a prescription decongestant.”

  35. ahwannabe says:

    Are they going to import cheap Chinese doctors too?

  36. Designersheets says:

    add’ info

    A rising number of major pharmacy and retail chains — including CVS Corp., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp. — are opening in-store health clinics. They offer patients fast access to routine medical services such as strep-throat tests, sports physicals and flu shots. The clinics, which typically charge between $25 and $60 per visit, don’t require an appointment and are open during pharmacy hours including evenings and weekends. To keep costs down, they are staffed by nurse practitioners, who can legally treat patients and write prescriptions in most states.

    The trend is rapidly spreading in pharmacy chains as they look for ways to stem losses to mail-order pharmacies and big-box stores. Three of the nation’s largest drugstore chains — Rite Aid Corp., Brooks Eckerd Pharmacy and Osco Drug — have announced plans to open health clinics in the coming months. All three have partnered with a Pennsylvania-based health-care start-up called Take Care Health Systems LLC that will lease space inside the pharmacies and operate the clinics.

    Take Care is also in talks with Walgreen Co., the nation’s largest pharmacy chain (by sales volume). The first Take Care clinics will open at Rite Aid stores in Portland, Ore., later this month; Take Care aims to have 1,300 clinics open by the end of 2007.

    Other major chains have been testing the in-store clinics. CVS and Target are working with Minneapolis-based MinuteClinic to open clinics at stores in markets including Minneapolis, Baltimore and Nashville. Wal-Mart is working with InterFit Health and other companies to open clinics in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Florida and other states. (The pharmacy chains must partner with outside companies because federal health-care laws banning “self referrals” prohibit pharmacy chains from running their own clinics.)

    The new clinics are aimed at everyone from harried parents dropping by with sick kids on the weekend, to busy professionals ducking in for a prescription during work hours. While the retailers don’t profit directly from the new services, the hope is that the clinics will boost business if patients fill their prescription at the store pharmacy, or pick up other items on their way out. (Target’s MinuteClinics even offer patients a clip-on beeper after they sign in, to encourage patients to shop until the nurse practitioner is ready to see them.)

  37. IRSistherootofallevil says:

    Ew. I don’t trust or give Walmart money for anything. I’d rather go to a properly trained doctor, thanks. I’m not going to play around with my health. That’s one area where I REFUSE to cut costs.