Earlier this month, news reports stated that Wal-Mart is forecasting that more than 6,600 in-store medical clinics will open in the next 5 years in Wal-Mart stores. Wal-Mart’s pilot program began with 75 clinics in Wal-Mart stores in 12 states. The company has declared the clinics a success and now plans for a speedy roll-out of additional clinics nationwide.
These clinics will have numerous implications for the medical community. First, according to Alicia Ledlie, senior director for Wal-Mart’s health business development, Wal-Mart is considering providing is in-store clinics with a common electronic medical records (EMR) system so patient care can be tracked from store to store. Dark Daily reported earlier this year in Corporations Take Electronic Health Records into their Own Hands that Wal-Mart is one of five large employers who created the Dossia Founders Group with the goal of providing digital health records (DHRs) for their 2.5 million workers, plus dependents. Assuming that Wal-Mart agrees on a unified electronic health record format for both its employees and the shoppers in its stores, there will soon be millions of people with the same type of electronic health record.
Second, through the pilot program, Wal-Mart has established that the “if you build it, they will come” principle works when it comes to walk-in medical clinics in Wal-Mart stores. By establishing 6,000 in-store clinics across the United States, Wal-Mart could conceivably have a major influence in shifting how people access healthcare services in this country. The convenience of obtaining routine laboratory tests at in-store clinics may prove quite attractive to many Wal-Mart patrons. CLIA-waived tests that produce instant results could make lab testing become like getting your oil changed at the Wal-Mart lube while you shop for your groceries.
Remember: the key to this is providing consumers with a service that they value. In this case, it is getting medical services quickly and at a fair price. It is likely that some smart laboratories will adjust to this age of convenience by accepting this trend and getting whatever piece of the lab testing pie that they can. In fact, for laboratories serving small towns—where Wal-Mart thrives—this may help them to pick up additional specimen volume, since time to result will be a competitive benefit that Wal-Mart wants from any laboratory provider that it uses to supplement on-site testing.
Finally, it should be noted that these changes are a few years down the road. Currently, walk-in medical clinics that operate from retail stores are using a nurse practitioner and only offer medical services for common ailments that can be diagnosed in a few minutes and are treatable with an over-the-counter remedy or a routine prescription. However, once Wal-Mart has 6,000 of these clinics in operation, it will definitely begin expanding the menu of medical services it offers with its in-store, walk-in clinics.