With the majority of Americans living just a few miles from a Walmart, how might independent clinical laboratories compete?
Retail giant Walmart (NYSE:WMT) plans to install 4,000 primary care “supercenters” in stores by 2029 that will include clinical laboratory testing services. This is on top of the dozens of Walmart Health locations already in operation in Georgia, Florida, Arkansas, Illinois, and Texas.
Clinical laboratories already have growing competition in the healthcare marketplace from pharmacy chains CVS (NYSE:CVS), Walgreens (NASDAQ:WBA), and Rite Aid (NYSE:RAD) which have installed in-store healthcare clinics in their retail locations—many of which offer limited, but common, medical laboratory services—as well as from existing Walmart Health locations.
Now, Walmart is poised to become a much bigger healthcare player. According to MedCity News, Walmart is “looking beyond traditional retail clinics as it seeks to create ‘supercenters’ with comprehensive healthcare services.”
Presumably, this includes an expanded menu of clinical laboratory testing services—along with the EKGs, vision care, dental care, and more—that Walmart Health locations currently provide for children and adults.
And though Becker’s Hospital Review reported in March that Walmart’s “plan is in flux,” the major national retailer continues to disrupt healthcare in significant ways.
Not the Average Retail Health Clinic
In “Walmart Health Opens Two Primary Care Clinics at Retail Supercenters in Chicago with Plans to Open Seven Florida Locations in 2021,” Dark Daily covered CNBC’s question, “Is Walmart the future of healthcare?” from its article, “How Walmart Plans to Take Over Health Care.”
We reported that Walmart Health’s list of services included:
- Primary care,
- Clinical laboratory testing,
- Health screening,
- Fitness and nutrition, and
- Health insurance education and enrollment.
However, the new Walmart Healthcare supercenters differ from Walmart Health clinics and the clinics operated by Walmart’s retail competitors Target, CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid.
Those clinics are designed to draw customers into existing retail setting. Walmart has a different goal with its healthcare supercenter concept.
“There’s a big difference between offering healthcare services to drive more people to your store and offering healthcare services because you’re in the healthcare business,” said former President of Health and Wellness for Walmart, Sean Slovenski, during a panel hosted by the American Telemedicine Association. “We’re in healthcare,” he continued, “We’re not in retail healthcare. We’re recruiting physicians in all of these areas and bringing them in.”
Providing Transparency with Clear, Consistent Pricing
In response to consumer demand for transparency, Walmart is taking a different approach to charging patients for healthcare services. The cost of an appointment for primary care is $40 for an adult and $20 for a child. The patient can choose to bill insurance or not, and people without insurance can pay out-of-pocket.
Prices for individual services are equally transparent. Explaining why Walmart is becoming a player in the healthcare industry, Marcus Osborne, Senior Vice President Walmart Health, told Fierce Healthcare, “It’s issues of affordability. That people can’t afford the care they need for themselves and their families. It’s issues of access … That really is the business that we’ve been in. Walmart’s business has been about helping people afford the things they need, getting them in a more accessible, convenient way, and doing it in ways that are simple. Healthcare’s no different in that regard.”
According to STAT, some 35 million Americans were uninsured in 2020. Thus, the idea of transparent pricing and walk-in affordable care should appeal to a sizable market. Walmart is banking on that. Considering that 90% of Americans live within 10 miles of a Walmart, the potential success of the healthcare supercenters becomes clear, Becker’s Hospital Review noted.
Walmart’s Other Healthcare Moves
In addition to opening 20 Walmart Health Centers, and its plans for 4,000 healthcare supercenters, Walmart has made other moves that indicate its intention to disrupt the healthcare industry.
Walmart Insurance Services, for example, partnered with eight payers during the open enrollment period in 2020 to sell its Medicare products. Through a partnership with Clover Health, a Preferred Provider Organization (PPO), and a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) with a Medicare contract, Walmart made its insurance plans available to 500,000 people in Georgia, Becker’s Hospital Review reported.
“We’re going to have a consumer revolution in retail for point of care,” John Sculley, former Apple CEO and current chairman at RxAdvance (now called nirvanaHealth), told CNBC. “Why? Because if the Walmart tests are successful, and I suspect they will be, people will be able to go in and get these kinds of health services at a lower cost than if they had health insurance.”
How Will Clinical Laboratories Compete?
Change is constant. Clinical laboratories that cannot adapt to changing market forces are ill-equipped to withstand the coming “consumer revolution.” However, labs that have already begun to plan for more direct-to-consumer interactions will be better positioned to adjust as changes come.
“My goal is that we have done the work on Walmart Health as a model, to really get it to work from a consumer perspective and get it to work in a way that it scales effectively, that we are able to reach more people,” Osborne told Fierce Healthcare.
Clinical laboratory leaders should understand that this trend is being driven by consumer demand for convenience, lower costs, and price transparency. Labs that don’t prepare to address those forces will be left behind as Walmart provides what consumers want.