Swapping the ED for Wal-Mart?

Retail giant aims to become largest U.S. primary care provider

Update: On Wednesday afternoon, Wal-Mart issued a statement that their request for information was "overwritten and incorrect" and to clarify that they are "not building a national, integrated, low-cost primary health care platform."

Wal-Mart's slogan—"Save money. Live better."—was conceived in 2007 as a way to stress customers' savings on home electronics, household supplies, and all kinds of consumer goods.

It may soon apply to the company’s health care strategy, too.

The national retailer is seeking partners in an initiative to reduce U.S. health care costs "by becoming the largest provider of primary health care services in the nation," Kaiser Health News/NPR reports.

Wal-Mart last month sent 14-page letters to health providers and companies asking them to explain their areas of expertise. Specifically, the company is requesting information on how potential partners would manage patients with complex chronic conditions, such as asthma, HIV, arthritis, depression, and sleep apnea.

Company spokesperson Tara Raddohl confirmed the plan, but notes that Wal-Mart is still determining "strategic next steps." According to KHN/NPR, the retailer will select partners in January.

Experts say the proposal could help Wal-Mart boost store traffic by expanding its in-store medical clinics and capitalizing on the increasing demand for primary care services. In addition, they note that Wal-Mart's clinics could collaborate with ACOs to streamline services and reduce costs.

However, the plan has drawn criticism from some physician groups, KHN/NPR reports. For example, American Academy of Family Physicians President Glen Stream says Wal-Mart's strategy could further fragment care. Meanwhile, Ann O'Malley, a senior health researcher at the Center for Studying Health System Change, says the approach may not effectively reduce costs, noting that primary care is not the main driver of U.S. health spending (Appleby/Varney, "Shots," KHN/NPR, 11/9).   

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