In another example of giving consumers more direct access to medical laboratory tests, Walmart believes that convenience and lower prices can help it capture market share
Retail giants continue to add healthcare services—including medical laboratory testing—to their wares. It’s a trend that pressures hospital systems, clinical laboratories, pathology groups, and primary care providers to compete for customers. And, while in most instances competition is good, many local and rural healthcare providers cannot reduce their costs enough to be competitive and stay in business.
This is true at Walmart (NYSE:WMT), which recently opened its second “Health Center” in Georgia and announced prices for general healthcare services 30% to 50% below what medical providers typically charge, reported Modern Healthcare.
The services offered at the new Walmart Health Center in Calhoun, a suburb of Atlanta, include:
- Primary care
- Clinical laboratory testing
- Health screening
- Fitness and nutrition
- Health insurance education and enrollment
A Walmart news release states, “This state-of-the-art facility provides quality, affordable and accessible healthcare for members of the Calhoun community so they can get the right care at the right time … in one facility at affordable, transparent pricing regardless of a patient’s insurance status.”
The fact that Walmart posts “Labs” on the Health Center’s outdoor sign may indicate the retail giant considers easy access to clinical laboratory testing a selling point that will draw customers.
“By offering clinical laboratory testing in support of primary care and urgent care, Walmart may be able to lower prices for lab tests in any market that it enters,” said Robert Michel, Editor-in-Chief of Dark Daily and its sister publication The Dark Report, and President of The Dark Intelligence Group.
Healthcare Transparency and Lower Prices
The 1,500 square-foot free-standing Walmart Health Centers offer more services than the in-store Care Clinics installed in other Walmarts throughout Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas. For its healthcare services, Walmart established partnerships with “on-the-ground” health providers to offer affordable services.
“We have taken advantage of every lever that we can to bring the price of doing all of this down more than any hospital or group practice could humanly do. Our goal, just like in the stores, is to get the prices as low as we can,” Sean Slovenski, Senior Vice President and President of Walmart Health and Wellness, told Bloomberg Businessweek.
Some of the clinical laboratory prices prominently posted in the building and noted on the Health Center online price list include:
- Primary care physician office visit $40
- Lipid $10
- Hemoglobin A1c $10
- Pregnancy Test $10
- Flu Test $20
- Strep Test $20
- Mono Test $20
Meanwhile, the average cost to visit a primary care doctor is $106, according to Health Care Cost Institute data cited by Business Insider, which noted that Walmart’s rates “could be a steep mountain for traditional providers to climb.”
However, Rob Schreiner, Executive Vice President of WellStar Health System in Northern Georgia told Modern Healthcare that “Walmart will offer a cheaper alternative for working-class families who may not have health insurance and may not have an established relationship with a primary care provider.”
Convenient Access to Quality Healthcare Services a Major Draw
At a freestanding Walmart Health Center, people can park near the entrance and walk a few steps to the entrance, rather than traversing aisles to a Care Clinic inside a Walmart Supercenter. And for many customers, finding a Walmart Health Center may not be as complicated or stressful as visiting doctors’ offices.
That seems to be Walmart’s goal—not simply using the Health Centers to increase traffic in its stores, Slovenski said. “We are trying to solve problems for our customers. We already have the volume,” he told Forbes. “We have the locations and the right people. We are creating a supercenter for basic healthcare services.”
Walmart’s arrangement with local healthcare providers differs from traditional primary care clinics staffed by doctors who are practice owners, or who are employed by nearby hospitals and health systems.
“The whole design of the clinic is curious to most of the doctors here [in Dallas, Ga.],” Jeffrey Tharp, MD, Chief Medicine Division Officer, WellStar Medical Group, told Modern Healthcare. “We are advocating integration into our network, for instance with patients who need a cardiologist coming from Walmart to WellStar.”
Other Retailers Offering Primary Care Services
Walmart is not the only retailer moving into the outpatient healthcare market. Dark Daily recently reported on CVS Health’s and Walgreens’ strategies in delivering primary care, as well as on the Amazon Care pilot program, which may lead to Amazon becoming a primary care provider as well. (See, “Amazon Care Pilot Program Offers Virtual Primary Care to Seattle Employees; Features Both Telehealth and In-home Care Services That Include Clinical Laboratory Testing,” January 31, 2020.)
Clinical laboratory leaders may want to explore partnerships with Walmart and other retailers that are developing healthcare centers to deliver primary care services in places where masses of people shop for everyday items. Especially given that these big-box retailers remain open during healthcare crises like the COVID-19 pandemic.
—Donna Marie Pocius