Walmart's answer to the health care crisis: mini-clinic partnerships

For its low-cost retail clinics, Walmart leases store space to independent local hospitals or health systems 'that the community already knows and trusts.'
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer on

Much of the healthcare industry is perceived to be a bloated, inefficient monstrosity. However, the rise of mini-clinics suggests there is a market solution that offers consumers more convenience and low costs -- at least for basic services.

Among other retailers, Walmart has been rolling out mini clinics in a number of its stores, established through partnerships with local healthcare institutions. Walmart says it leases space in its stores to independent local hospitals or health systems "that the community already knows and trusts." The clinics offer basic healthcare services such as check-ups, immunizations, screenings and minor injuries.

The partnerships with established healthcare providers are key to the success of the clinics. For example, in Walmart's home turf, Northwest Health System manages clinics in two northwest Arkansas Walmart stores.

No appointment is necessary at these clinics.  The routine "get well" and "preventative" visits typically cost $50 to $65, the store chain says. Patients may pay cash or file claims with participating health plans. Walmart also points out that "the cost of every service the clinics offer will be clearly posted, bringing much needed price transparency to the health care industry." The store also points out that "many visitors have said that if it were not for our clinics, they would have forgone medical care — or they would have visited an emergency room."

Another example of retail clinics is MinuteClinic, which maintains pharmacy-based clinics staffed by nurse practitioners and  charges flat fees for basic services.

The Deloitte Center for Health Solutions has been tracking the growth of retail health outlets, noting that as of July 2009, there were approximately 1,107 retail clinics in operation in the United States, up 15% from the year before. (Full copy of the report here.)

The retail mini-clinics act as a safety valve on an overburdened and over-priced healthcare system. For example, Deloitte’s 2009 Survey of Health Care Consumers found that 13% of consumers had used a mini-clinic over the previous 12 months, and "30% of respondents are likely to use a retail clinic if it would cost them 50% less than seeing their physician."

The Deloitte report cites evidence that for comprehensive treatments (i.e., inclusive of the visit, lab testing and pharmaceuticals) of five basic illnesses, "retail clinic visits were $51 less than a trip to an emergency room and $55 less than a visit to the primary care physician."

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Editorial standards