Walmart Takes Steps to Expand Medical Services in Stores

Walmart officials confirmed the company is exploring ways it can expand into the health care industry and offer a range of services that include basic preventive care and management of chronic conditions.

Walmart spokesperson Tara Raddohl declined to give specifics but said the retail giant was taking steps to make the move into medical services by the end of the year.

In-store medical clinics are expected to boost store traffic for the retail giant. Walmart is the largest retailer and private employer in the United States.

It is unclear how much increase in traffic the new services would bring to Walmart stores nationwide.

Some health care analysts welcome the retailer’s move into the medical profession.

"We have a massive primary care problem that will be made worse by health reform," said Ian Morrison, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based health care consultant, to Kaiser Health News. "Anyone who has a plausible idea on how to solve this should be allowed to play."

Walmart’s plan goes beyond services already offered at several retailers that typically provide vaccines and simple tests. The company is seeking proposals to provide care for chronic conditions, such as asthma diabetes and HIV, according to reports.

It is something analysts and industry professionals are watching closely. The move could provide a model for drastically cutting health care costs.

However, if Walmart only offers primary care services, the cost cutting measures could prove futile, according to Ann O'Malley, a physician and senior health researcher at the Center for Studying Health System Change, a nonpartisan Washington think tank.

"Maybe Walmart can deliver a lot of this stuff more cheaply because it is an expert at doing this with other types of widgets, but health care is not a widget and managing individual human beings is not nearly as simple as selling commercial products to consumers," said O’Malley to KHN.

Primary care services, however, are not the driving factors behind high health care costs in the United States.

"I would be surprised if this were a model that could truly attack cost problems," O’Malley added.

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