Walmart is offering a free three-day livestreaming event to launch its expanding Walmart Health services. The event runs Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, August 28 through 30. It's a big step forward in Walmart's plan to disrupt the health care industry and reimagine how primary and dental care are delivered. The move not only leverages Walmart's main advantage over primary competitor Amazon -- its physical stores -- but also takes on pharmacy chains like CVS and Walgreens, which have opened their own in-store clinics.
You probably think of Walmart as the place to go when you need to buy items for your home, or inexpensive clothing or toys, or perhaps auto parts. Now the retail giant wants you to think of it one other time, too: When you need routine medical care, such as a visit to a doctor or a dentist, a health screening, wellness education, or mental health counseling. The company has launched Walmart Health with clinics in Arkansas, Texas, and Georgia so far, and is now upping its investment with plans to open six additional locations around Atlanta and new Florida locations soon. It also offers free online wellness courses.
The live event will feature three sessions over three days on nutritional health, cardiac health, and mental health, respectively -- three areas where Walmart is hoping to connect with customers with ongoing wellness offerings. Singer Patti LaBelle, who has had Type 2 diabetes for almost 25 years, will lead the opening session on nutrition.
But make no mistake: Although this event is virtual and intended in part to replace the in-store Walmart Wellness Days that have been curtailed during the pandemic, Walmart's expansion into health care is very much happening in the real world. The chain is rethinking how primary care should be delivered to people who need it.
Low fees, less paperwork
Walmart's clinics, which take both walk-ins and appointments, are very light on paperwork compared with nearly any other health care delivery system. That's because patients' health insurance, or lack thereof, is often irrelevant. Walmart charges low flat fees for the services it offers, for example $25 or $30 for a checkup in one Georgia store. Because of co-pays and deductibles, it often makes sense even for customers with health insurance to simply pay Walmart directly for these services, and that's what many of them do. And then, of course, they can walk across the store to fill a prescription or buy the foods or exercise gear the doctor recommended. In these times, when obtaining health care usually involves a dizzying amount of paperwork, and unpredictable charges as well, the simplicity and convenience of Walmart's approach is likely to appeal to many customers. "We want to extend the services we've always had in our pharmacies that include immunizations and medication counseling and of course prescription fills into other primary care offerings," Walmart chief medical officer Tom Van Gilder, MD, in a recorded interview with Katie Couric.
He also noted that 90 percent of the U.S. population lives within 10 miles of a Walmart. Giving all those people a reason to visit a physical location serves as an additional salvo against Amazon, its primary competitor. At the same time, Walmart's other traditional advantage -- its ability to drive down prices through negotiating power and efficiencies -- may give it the upper hand when competing with health care chains such as CVS and Walgreens that have in-store clinics of their own.
Lowering prices gives Walmart another advantage, though. Because many patients don't use insurance, some of its health care providers say they spend less of their time on paperwork, which allows them to spend more time treating patients, according to a Bloomberg report. In other words, Walmart has made the entire process simpler, less expensive, less complex, and more transparent for both employees and customers than it would be almost anyplace else. Anytime you can do all that, you're likely to win in the marketplace.
The Walmart Health kickoff event will be livestreamed starting at 12 p.m. Eastern/9 a.m. Pacific on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. You can watch it here.