Walmart’s Health and Wellness Chief Discusses Retail Giant’s Move to Healthcare/Telehealth Provider, a Step with Implications for Clinical Laboratory Testing
Retail giant now has primary care clinics at stores in five states, but the rollout has not gone smoothly
Healthcare is increasingly being driven by consumerism and one clear sign of this trend is Walmart’s ambitious plan to open health clinics at its retail locations. The retail giant set its plans in motion in 2019 with its first primary care site in a suburban Atlanta store, however, the rollout since then has presented certain challenges.
Nevertheless, the trend of placing nearly full-service primary care clinics in retail locations continues. Clinical laboratories in these areas need strategies to serve customers accessing healthcare through these new channels, particularly as Walmart and the national retail pharmacy chains continue to expand the clinical services offered in their retail stores.
“Consumer engagement is a huge part of healthcare, [yet it is also a] gap for us in healthcare,” cardiologist and Walmart VP of Health and Wellness Cheryl Pegus, MD, told Modern Healthcare. “Healthcare is incredibly complicated,” she added. “And where we are in healthcare today is not in having great treatments. It’s not in having evidence-based medicine. It’s understanding how we engage consumers.”
“Telehealth offers a great opportunity to expand access and reach consumers where they are and complements our brick-and-mortar Walmart Health locations,” said Pegus in a Walmart new release announcing the acquisition. “Today people expect omnichannel access to care and adding telehealth to our Walmart healthcare strategies allows us to provide in-person and digital care across our multiple assets and solutions.”
Currently, Walmart Health centers only operate in Georgia, Florida, Illinois, and Arkansas. But telehealth enables Walmart “to provide virtual healthcare across the country to anyone,” Pegus said. With both offerings, “we’re really attempting to allow people to get healthcare the way they need it without disrupting the rest of their life.” Many users of these services are Walmart “associates,” she added, using the company’s term for its retail employees.
Large Portfolio of Healthcare Offerings
Pegus joined Walmart (NYSE:WMT) in December 2020 to oversee a portfolio that now includes more than 4,700 pharmacies and 3,400 Vision Centers, in addition to the telehealth operation and the Walmart Health centers. She was previously chief medical officer at Walgreens and Cambia Health Solutions and worked in private practice as a cardiologist.
The retail giant opened its first Walmart Health center in Dallas, Ga., an Atlanta suburb, in September 2019, followed by additional centers in Georgia, Arkansas, and Illinois.
Earlier this year, it opened five new clinics in northern and central Florida with plans for at least four more in the Jacksonville, Orlando, and Tampa areas, according to a press release. Each health center is adjacent to a Walmart retail location.
These centers offer a range of primary care medical services, including:
- injury care,
- radiology, and
- care for chronic health conditions.
As Dark Daily reported in May 2020, the Walmart Health centers also offer clinical laboratory testing at cut-rate prices, such as:
- $10 for a lipid test,
- $10 for Hemoglobin A1c, and
- $20 for a strep test.
On the Walmart Health website, patients can enter their Zip code to view a list of Walmart Health clinics in their area, including links to price lists.
Walmart’s Expansion into Healthcare Not Without Problems
In “Walmart to Open 4,000 Healthcare ‘Supercenters’ by 2029 That Include ‘Comprehensive’ Clinical Laboratory Services,” Dark Daily covered how Walmart was poised to become a much bigger healthcare player with an expanded menu of clinical laboratory testing services including EKGs, vision care, dental care, and more for children and adults.
However, the company’s expansion into healthcare has not gone smoothly. In 2018, the Walmart board signed off on a plan to open 4,000 health centers by 2029, Insider reported. By the end of 2021, Walmart expected to have 125 health centers in operation, but as of June 2022, the Walmart Health website listed only 25 locations, mostly in Georgia.
Citing anonymous sources, Insider reported problems that include “leadership changes, competing business priorities brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, and the complexity of scaling a massive healthcare operation.”
In Sept. 2021, Insider further reported that the clinics were experiencing operational difficulties including hidden fees and billing problems. One culprit, the story suggested, was the company’s electronic health record (EHR) software. That same month, Walmart announced it would adopt the Epic health records system, beginning with the opening of new clinics in Florida locations.
Pegus’ arrival at Walmart appears to be part of a management shakeup. In January 2022, Insider reported that she had assembled a new executive team, with David Carmouche, MD, Senior VP, Omnichannel Care Offerings, overseeing the health centers and telehealth operations. By then, the original executives leading the rollout of the health centers had all left, Insider reported. Carmouche was previously an executive VP with Ochsner Health in New Orleans.
Partnership with Quest Diagnostics
Meanwhile, in January, Walmart announced a deal with Quest Diagnostics that allows consumers to order more than 50 lab tests through The Wellness Hub on Walmart.com, which is separate from the Walmart Health website. The tests cover “general health, digestive health, allergy, heart health, women’s health, and infectious disease,” according to a press release announcing the partnership.
Consumers can order at-home test kits for certain conditions or set up appointments for tests at Quest Patient Service Centers. The tests on the Walmart/QuestDirect website include:
- COVID-19 Active Infection ($119+)
- COVID-19 Antibody Test ($69)
- Cholesterol Panel ($59)
- Complete Blood Count ($59)
- Comprehensive Metabolic Panel ($49)
- CRP Inflammation Marker ($59)
- Diabetes Management ($69+)
- Diabetes Risk ($99+)
- Food Allergy Test Panel ($209)
- Chickenpox ($59)
The website also offers a combined Basic Health Profile with CBC, CMP, cholesterol panel, and urinalysis for $149. “Each purchase is reviewed and, if appropriate, ordered by a licensed physician,” the press release states.
What does all this mean for clinical laboratories? “They need to recognize that the Millennials and Gen Zs are driving a consumer revolution in healthcare,” said Robert Michel, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Dark Daily and its sister publication The Dark Report.
“Walmart was early to recognize and respond to this, in part because it employs 1.3 million Americans, many of whom are Gen Y and Gen Z and quick to use telehealth and similar virtual health services,” he added.
Clinical laboratory leaders need to understand this trend and develop strategies to attract and serve new patients who are willing to access healthcare virtually, while still needing to provide blood and other specimens for the lab tests ordered by their providers.