Wal-Mart to Expand Medical Services at In-Store Clinics

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is strengthening its attempts to offer low-cost medical services to individuals through its in-store clinics, according to a new report from the American Medical Association (AMA). However, the major retailer’s project is facing challenges as a result of health industry regulations.

Wal-Mart Faces Difficulties with Health Care Rules

Despite the fact that Wal-Mart is known as a super-power among retailers, it has had trouble getting into the medical services business. Over the summer, the retailer began expanding its reach by offering free legal services to Medicaid patients, but it has maintained an additional goal of providing medical services to individuals in need.

In 2007, Wal-Mart announced its goal to get store-based clinics fully operating, in an effort to provide medical services. Currently, it owns about 140 independently-operated health clinics across the U.S. Many clinics started out as cash-only practices to help individuals without medical coverage, but eventually began accepting health insurance due to low participation.

A major reason Wal-Mart struggles at achieving the success it desires lies in its inability to function as it normally does– effectively and efficiently without many hoops to jump through. The health industry is unique in that businesses are prohibited from providing medical services unless they were formed specifically to do so. This stipulation forces Wal-Mart to recruit third-party clinics to help the retailer offer medical services and health care.

To gain footing in the health industry, Wal-Mart is now pushing to expand its retail clinic operations into diagnostic and chronic care services. However, there is still uncertainty as to whether this expansion will make a significant difference in Wal-Mart’s project.

Low-Cost Medical Services Project is Underway

With millions of Americans struggling to pay for medical services, Wal-Mart is pushing to develop a “low-cost primary care health care platform” for individuals with and without health insurance.

Wal-Mart has seen success with other health industry avenues, such as its pharmacy operation. Customers enjoy affordable medication from the Wal-Mart thanks to its generic-alternatives, generally priced as low as $4. The difference with Wal-Mart pharmacy services and its current medical services initiative, is that Wal-Mart retains direct corporate control over its pharmacy practice.

The company hopes that by expanding to include diagnostic services, covering allergies, lipid abnormalities, sexually transmitted diseases, liver disease, as well as chronic care management for diabetes, asthma, arthritis, obesity, sleep apnea and HIV, more patient care providers will jump onboard.

Wal-Mart’s goal is to select new medical services partners by Jan. 13, 2012. If they are successful, more health care options may be available to low-income individuals waiting to acquire coverage through the health care reform law.