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Walmart Clinics Target Affordable Health Care

5 min read

Walmart Inc.’s foray into the health care industry isn’t slowing down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Bentonville company opened its 5,800-SF health clinic in Springdale on Elm Springs Road in June, the fourth such clinic the retailer has opened since September and the first in Arkansas. The company said it will proceed with additional clinics in Georgia, Florida and Chicago in the coming year.

“It feels like we have an opportunity to help — to help the country and to build a stronger business,” Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said at a Barclays Capital Inc. conference in December.

The main selling points for the Walmart Health Clinic are upfront pricing for a wide array of primary care services at one location. The Walmart Health Elm Springs, like the three in Georgia, is adjacent to one of the company’s supercenters.

Each clinic has subtle differences in size and services offered, but the main focus is the same: primary and urgent care, dental and vision, lab work and counseling services. And the price for each service is listed like a menu at a fast-food restaurant.

“From the beginning, this has been a commercially driven market solution for us,” Amber Bynum, senior director for Walmart Health Operations, said last week. “Our goal is to make health care more affordable and accessible. We’re doing that through a model that has never been done before. Our goal is to provide transparent, convenient, affordable quality care. That is what we build our model on.”

Amber Bynum

Bynum said the transparent pricing is the biggest advantage because many people stress about medical visits because of the unknown costs, even with a good health insurance plan. Will the dentist bill end up costing just a $20 deductible or will it cost $1,000?

Bynum said the early response from patients and customers in Georgia and Springdale has been positive and the number of patients treated has been above expectations, although the company declined to divulge specific numbers. Bynum said her favorite patient review was one who said the clinic promised a doctor’s visit would cost $40 and it did.

“We didn’t set out to disrupt health care; we set out to meet the needs of our customers at Walmart,” Sean Slovenski, Walmart’s president of health and wellness, said at a American Telemedicine Association panel in June. “When we say it’s $20 to have your child seen with a primary care physician, and it’s really $20.

“When you come in and walk out and get the bill and it’s still $20, that’s quite a disruption in the space.”

Making Money

The biggest question for Walmart is not necessarily how to make its health care model work for patients but how to make it work profitably for the company.

The clinics are staffed by Walmart employees in partnership with local physicians. The transparent prices are set low so it remains to be seen how profitable the clinics will be on a lower margin combined with the significant costs of medical employees and equipment.

How attractive Walmart is for medical professionals is another question, as even McMillon admitted in the Barclays conference.

“[That] is hysterical to me, because my dad was a dentist, and I just can’t imagine being a dentist working at Walmart, but people are enjoying it,” McMillon said.

The draw for doctors and dentists apparently is the upfront pricing. So far, the clinics are geared for patients with no or poor health insurance, and cash payment for services means less paperwork for physicians. (Walmart eventually plans for its clinics to accept major health care plans.)

“The health care professionals that are there love the incentive structures, like they’re not being rewarded to send people to a specialty [when the patient] might not need it,” McMillon said. “They’re being rewarded for caring for those patients.”

Placing the clinics next to supercenters is a marketing tactic, of course. The company’s flagship retail locations get enormous foot traffic — especially before the pandemic — and if things ever return to normal, a trip to a Walmart Supercenter could allow a doctor visit, a prescription pickup and a grocery run all at one place.

“It’s more about access to quality, affordable preventative care at a great value,” McMillon said. “And combined with our pharmacy business and our optical business, we got a foundation to put together and it helps customers save time, have access. It helps us drive store traffic.”


Bynum, a mother of three and a former Miss Arkansas, knows that children have a way of getting sick or injured at the least convenient times for their parents. The clinics aren’t designed for emergency treatment of major issues, but they can handle the fevers and cuts that are only headaches when they happen at night or on the weekends.

Walmart’s clinics are open seven days a week, from 7:30 a.m to 7:30 p.m. every day except Sunday, when the hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The clinics take walk-in patients but recommend making appointments.

“It is the same price whether you go on a Monday or go on a Sunday, if you’re going to get your teeth cleaned or go to a primary care checkup,” Bynum said. “My oldest, when he was younger, was my ear infection child and he was always [getting sick] on Friday — Friday night and you’re going to an acute care center or ER and paying a lot. Our model gives us the ability to provide for working families, and even if they’re not sick but working all week, you don’t have to take a vacation day to take your kids to the dentist or the doctor.”

The health clinic model is still in its infancy and evolving, Bynum said. When the pandemic hit, waiting rooms were scaled back because the goal was to get patients to go directly into examination rooms rather than sit around in a general space. That will be ideal even after the pandemic subsides, Bynum said.

The company is also studying health statistics in current and future locations so it will know how to add or expand services as needed. For example, if a clinic has a lot of patients with diabetes, then the clinic will expand those related services.

Bynum said the company’s clinic expansion blueprint won’t slow down because of the ongoing pandemic.

“If anything, we have probably sped things up,” Bynum said. “I would probably say the combined crisis of COVID-19 and the economic recession and subsequent loss of health insurance for millions of Americans have reinforced to us the vulnerability of the health care system. There is a lack of access to affordable health care, and it’s just an unfortunate reality.”

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