Wal-Mart used to be simply Wal-Mart. Then, it grew, and grew, and grew. Now Wal-Mart often appears as “Super Wal-Mart”–and it seems that you can get pretty much everything there. They have clothes, they have home furnishings, they have automotive supplies, pet supplies, music and electronics, fabric and crafts, books, magazines, groceries, shoes, tools, prescription drugs, optometrists, banks, and fast-food restaurants. Many even sell gasoline out in the parking lot. In fact, just about the only things you can’t get at Wal-Mart are legal advice and medical care, but corporate executives at Wal-Mart are hoping to change the latter.
Wal-Mart’s plan to begin providing primary care in a big way was first reported by Kaiser Health News. The move is ironic in that it comes at the same time that Wal-Mart announced it would further scale-back already atrocious employee health insurance benefits, but it might actually work for some basic needs.
Wal-Mart’s $4 price for many generic medications has been tremendously popular, and speaking from personal experience, undercuts the need for prescription drug coverage in many cases. It’s certainly possible that Wal-Mart can provide certain primary care services at low prices that increase access to those services and potentially steer people away from higher priced settings like emergency rooms and urgent care centers. However, there are concerns about quality and whether a retail-based primary care practice will be able to effectively manage the complex needs of people with chronic conditions. In effect, as the health care system continues to eye a movement towards the patient-centered medical home model, Wal-Mart may not be the best fit. The retail giant is a jack of all trades, but a master of none, unless cutting corners to drive prices down is a trade. They’ve cornered the market on that one, but is that how you want to care for your health?