retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The New York Times writes this morning about how Walmart "is making an aggressive push to become a one-stop shopping destination for medical care.

"The company has opened five primary care locations in South Carolina and Texas, and plans to open a sixth clinic in Palestine, Tex., on Friday and another six by the end of the year. The clinics, it says, can offer a broader range of services, like chronic disease management, than the 100 or so acute care clinics leased by hospital operators at Walmarts across the country. Unlike CVS or Walgreens, which also offer some similar services, or Costco, which offers eye care, Walmart is marketing itself as a primary medical provider … With its vast rural footprint, Walmart is positioning its primary care clinics in areas where doctors are scarce, and where medical care, with or without insurance, can be prohibitively expensive. If they succeed, the company said, it is prepared to open even more."

The Times notes that "while experts agree that increased access to health care is a good thing, others say patients with chronic conditions need complex care that retail giants cannot provide. Diseases like diabetes, for example, can result in complications that are not easy to manage."

The clinics, the story says, have "a supervisory physician who oversees compliance and prescription orders at one or two locations, those doctors do not actually treat patients. The system is the same as for acute care clinics that treat minor skin infections or a sprained ankle, but it is more unusual for facilities that provide more complicated health services, said Dr. Steven J. Kravet, the president of Johns Hopkins Community Physicians."
KC's View:
I've argued here for a long time that Walmart needed to take greater direct control of its clinic system, and that eventually it would - there is just too much opportunity there for a company like Walmart to simply have a toe in the water. And sure, the clinic model challenges traditional healthcare systems, but it strikes me as an entirely reasonable approach in certain markets. The way healthcare services are provided is changing in dramatic ways, and the smart companies are figuring out how to be part of the change.