Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is apparently taking another crack at the health business, again bringing up the question: Will the world’s largest retailer have a major impact on patient care?
Wal-Mart has sent a request seeking vendors to help expand the breadth of its retail clinic operations into diagnostic and chronic care services. But despite its ability to dominate in retail, health care has been a tougher business for the company. It has had success with pharmacy-related initiatives but a spottier record with in-store clinics.
The difference, analysts say, is that although Wal-Mart has direct corporate control of its pharmacy projects, it must contract retail clinic services to outside hospitals or medical operators because of state laws limiting the practice of medicine to corporations formed for that purpose. Thus, the company can’t instantly institute a highly market-disrupting, chainwide initiative for patient care.
“This is not the way Wal-Mart does things,” said Tom Charland, CEO of Merchant Medicine, a retail clinic consultancy firm in Shoreview, Minn. “They do things efficienctly. They do things on a large scale. But health care operates like no other industry.”
National Public Radio and Kasier Health News reported Nov. 9 that Wal-Mart had issued a request for information to potential vendors that could provide diagnostic services and chronic care management.
The list of diagnostic services included allergies, lipid abnormalities, sexually transmitted diseases and liver disease.
Diabetes, asthma, obesity, arthritis, sleep apnea and HIV were on the list of candidates for chronic care management. Partners were to be selected on Jan. 13, 2012.