News, Analysis, Trends, Management Innovations for
Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

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News, Analysis, Trends, Management Innovations for
Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

Hosted by Robert Michel
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Walmart to Open 4,000 Healthcare ‘Supercenters’ by 2029 That Include ‘Comprehensive’ Clinical Laboratory Services

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,
  • Dental,
  • Counseling,
  • Clinical laboratory testing,
  • X-rays,
  • Health screening,
  • Optometry,
  • Hearing,
  • 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.”

“A lot of the opportunity is just about bringing what we’re doing to more people. I think about Walmart Health and what we launched a little over a year ago in Georgia and the impact we’ve seen in the communities where it launched. I think one of the biggest things to do is how do we continue to find ways to make that model work so we can reach more people with it in more communities,” Marcus Osborne (above), Senior Vice President Walmart Health, told Fierce Healthcare. Walmart certainly has experience in disruption. The retailer upended the grocery industry from the moment it entered the market, and it was the first to offer $4 prescriptions, which disrupted long-standing retail relationships consumers had with their pharmacies. Clinical laboratories should realize that Walmart
will likely make similar waves in the healthcare sector. (Photo copyright: Consumer Goods Forum.)

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.

Dava Stewart

Related Information:

Walmart Opens Second Health Center Offering Clinical Laboratory Tests and Primary Care Services

9 Numbers That Show How Big Walmart’s Role in Healthcare Is

Walmart Divulges Plans for ‘Healthcare Supercenters’

Why Does Walmart Think It Has a Right to Play in Healthcare? Top Health Exec Osborne Explains

The Number of Americans Without Health Insurance Has Been Trending Up. Let’s Turn It Down Again

Former Apple CEO: Walmart’s Healthcare Services Will Cause ‘a Consumer Revolution’

Kaiser Permanente Announces that Virtual Visits with Providers Have Surpassed Face-to-Face Appointments at Meeting of Nashville Health Care Council Members

Should this milestone be an indicator that more patients are willing to use telehealth to interact with providers, then clinical laboratories and pathology groups will need to respond with new ways to collect specimens and report results

Telehealth is gaining momentum at Kaiser Permanente (KP). Public statements by Kaiser administrators indicate that the number of virtual visits (AKA, telemedicine) with providers now is about equal to face-to-face visits with providers. This trend has many implications for clinical laboratories, both in how patient samples are collected from patients using virtual provider visits and how the medical laboratory test results are reported.

That this is happening at KP is not a surprise. The health system is well-known as a successful healthcare innovator. So, when its Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Bernard Tyson publically announced that the organization’s annual number of virtual visits with healthcare providers had surpassed the number of conventional in-person appointments, he got the members’ attention, as well as, the focus of former US Senator Bill Frist, MD, who moderated the event.

Tyson made this statement during a gathering of the Nashville Health Care Council. He informed the attendees that KP members have more than 100 million encounters each year with physicians, and that 52% of those are virtual visits, according to an article in Modern Healthcare.

However, when asked to comment about Tyson’s announcement during a video interview with MedCity News following the 13th Annual World Health Care Congress in Washington, DC, Robert Pearl, MD, Executive Director/CEO of the Permanente Medical Group and President/CEO of the Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group (MAPMG), stated, “Currently we’re doing 13-million virtual visits—that’s a combination of secure e-mail, digital, telephone, and video—and we did 16-million personal visits. But, by 2018, we expect those lines will cross because the virtual visits [are] going up double digits, whereas the in-person visits are relatively flat.”

So, there’s a bit of disagreement on the current numbers. Nevertheless, the announcement that consumer demand for virtual visits was increasing sparked excitement among the meeting attendees and telemedicine evangelists.

“It’s astounding,” declared Senator Frist, “because it represents what we all want to do, which is innovate and push ahead,” noted an article in The Tennessean.

Is this a wake-up call for the healthcare industry? Should clinical laboratories start making plans for virtual patients?

Of virtual office visits, Pearl noted in the interview with MedCity News, “Why wouldn’t you want, if the medical conditions are appropriate, to have your care delivered from the convenience of your home, or wherever you might be, at no cost to you, and to have it done immediately without any delays in care?”

Pearl added that one-third of patients in primary care provider virtual visits are able to connect with specialists during those sessions.

“It’s better quality, greater convenience, and certainly better outcomes as care begins immediately,” he noted.

Kaiser Permanente ‘Reimagines’ Medical Care

The virtual visit milestone is an impactful one at Kaiser Permanente, an Oakland, Calif.-based nonprofit healthcare organization that includes Kaiser Foundation hospitals, Permanente Medical Groups, and the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan. It suggests that the KP has successfully integrated health information technology (HIT) with clinical workflows. And that the growing trend in virtual encounters indicates patients are becoming comfortable accessing physicians and clinicians in this manner.

As Tyson stated during the Nashville meeting, it is about “reimagining medical care.”

Bernard Tyson (right), Chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente, speaking with former Senator Bill Frist, MD (left), at the Nashville Health Care Council meeting where he announced that the non-profit provider’s number of virtual visits with patients had surpassed its face-to-face appointments. (Photo Credit: Nashville Health Care Council.)

What does “reimagining” mean to the bottom line? He shared these numbers with the audience, according to the Modern Healthcare report:

  • 25% of the system’s $3.8 billion in capital spending goes to IT;
  • 7-million people are Kaiser Permanente members;
  • 95% of members have a capitated plan, which means they pay Kaiser Permanente a monthly fee for healthcare services, including the virtual visits.

The American Telemedicine Association, which itself interchanges the words “telemedicine” and “telehealth,” noted that large healthcare systems are “reinventing healthcare” by using telemedicine. The worldwide telemedicine market is about $19 billion and expected to grow to more than $48 billion by 2021, noted a report published by Research and Markets.

Consumers Want Virtual Health, but Providers Lag Behind Demand

Most Americans are intrigued with telehealth services. However, not everyone is participating in them. That’s according to an Advisory Board Company Survey that found 77% of 5,000 respondents were interested in seeing a doctor virtually and 19% have already done so.

Healthcare systems such as Kaiser Permanente and Cleveland Clinic are embracing telehealth, which Dark Daily covered in a previous e-briefing. However, the healthcare industry overall has a long way to go “to meet consumer interest in virtual care,” noted an Advisory Board news release about the survey.

“Direct-to-consumer virtual specialty and chronic care are largely untapped frontiers,” noted Emily Zuehlke, a consultant with The Advisory Board Company (NASDAQ:ABCO). “As consumers increasingly shop for convenient affordable healthcare—and as payers’ interest in low-cost access continues to grow—this survey suggests that consumers are likely to reward those who offer virtual visits for specialty and chronic care,” she stated.

Telehealth Could Increase Healthcare Costs

Does telehealth reduce healthcare spending? A study published in Health Affairs suggests that might not be the case. The researchers found that telemedicine could actually increase costs, since it drives more people to use healthcare.

“A key attraction of this type of telehealth for health plans and employers is the potential savings involved in replacing physician office and emergency department visits with less expensive virtual visits. However, increased convenience may tap into unmet demand for healthcare, and new utilization may increase overall healthcare spending,” the study authors wrote in the Health Affairs article.

Clinical Laboratories Can Support Virtual Healthcare  

Clinical laboratories must juggle supporting consumer demand for convenience, while also ensuring health quality expectations and requirements. How can pathologists and medical laboratory leaders integrate their labs with the patient’s virtual healthcare experience, while also aiming for better and more efficient care? One way would be to explore innovative ways to contact patients about the need to collect specimens subsequent to virtual visits. Of course, the procedures themselves must be done in-person. Nevertheless, medical laboratories could find ways to digitally complement—through communications, test results sharing, and education—patients’ use of virtual visits.

—Donna Marie Pocius


Related Information:

Kaiser Permanente Chief Says Members are Flocking to Virtual Visits

Kaiser’s Tyson to Nashville: Health Care’s Future Isn’t in a Hospital

More Virtual Care Than Office Visits at Kaiser Permanente by 2018

Telemedicine Market Forecasts: 2016 to 2021

What do Consumers Want from Virtual Visits?

Virtual Visits with Medical Specialists Draw Strong Consumer Demand, Survey Shows

Direct-to-Consumer Telehealth May Increase Access to Care but Does Not Decrease Spending

Cleveland Clinic Gives Patients Statewide 24/7 Access to Physicians Through Smartphones, iPads, Tablets, and Online; Will Telemedicine Also Involve Pathologists?

Cleveland Clinic Gives Patients Statewide 24/7 Access to Physicians through Smartphones, iPads, Tablets and Online: Will Telemedicine Also Involve Pathologists?

New service allows patients statewide to access urgent care via telephones and other devices as Cleveland Clinic positions itself to be a 24/7 provider of choice

Urgent care by telephone is the latest patient-centric and customer-friendly medical service to be offered by the Cleveland Clinic. It is also the first 24-hour online statewide healthcare service of its kind in Ohio, a milestone that has implications for pathologists and clinical laboratory executives because lab testing is often required in support of patients wanting access to urgent care, particularly after hours.

Express Care Online (formerly MyCare Online) is the Cleveland Clinic’s new telemedicine service. It enables patients to see a medical professional for urgent matters via computer or smartphone 24 hours a day/seven days a week, according to a Cleveland Clinic statement. (more…)

CMS Issues New Telemedicine Guidelines and Approves Seven New Procedures in Move to Further Encourage Telehealth Initiatives

As the Medicare program expands telemedicine services, the opportunity may arise for sub-specialist pathologists to offer consultation services across state lines

More use of telemedicine across state borders has long been predicted as a way to improve access to care—particularly for patients in rural areas—as well as to give physicians and patients access to talented sub-specialists. Within the anatomic pathology profession, however, there are probably as many pathologists who view telemedicine across states lines to be a threat as there are pathologists who see it as an opportunity to raise the quality of care.

For its part, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) is taking a step forward in supporting the wider use of telemedicine. It is issuing new rules that expand reimbursement for remote patient services, a move that one day could benefit pathologists who provide sub-specialty pathology consultations with referring physicians across state lines. (more…)