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Walmart Moves Further Into Health Care

3 min read

Walmart Inc. last month announced it was increasing the pay of its more than 7,000 pharmacists and opticians, demonstrating its continued dedication to retail health care.

On May 31, Walmart said it had raised the pay of about 3,700 pharmacists, bringing their average annual salary to more than $140,000. And more than 4,000 opticians will be getting a raise, with the average making more than $22.50 an hour, Walmart said.

That pay announcement follows a March news release in which the retailer detailed plans to open 28 Walmart Health centers next year, which will give it more than 75 across the country by the end of 2024.

Walmart’s expansion into health care comes with several advantages for the retailer, said Robert Field, a professor of law and public health at Drexel University of Philadelphia.

Health care will continue to be a growth industry because “people will always be getting sick,” he said. Having clinics is a way to attract people to the store. “Pharmacies have been doing this for some time,” Field said.

Even if the clinic has a separate entrance, if patients are on the premises and they discover that they need a loaf of bread, a gallon of milk or aspirin, they’re right there to buy it.

Walmart isn’t the only retailer that has expanded its health care services. In November, the online retailer Amazon announced its Amazon Clinic will be in 32 states and provide virtual care for more than 20 health conditions, such as allergies, acne and hair loss.

Field said large companies will see a “huge payoff” if they can effectively harness health care technology and if they are the first to do it.

Walmart appears to be trying to do just that. In September 2021, it announced a partnership with Epic, the health records system. “Through this single, unified system, Walmart Health will engage patients, health care professionals, insurance carriers and other stakeholders while enhancing communication, personalization and information sharing” through a patient portal, Walmart’s news release said.

Field said that as health care becomes more technology-focused and artificial intelligence plays a larger role, health services will become more efficient. “If you can promise people not just the convenience of location, but also rapid turnaround, and technology could help with that, then you add another leg up on your competitors,” Field said.

But Walmart’s health clinics, which first opened in 2019, might have some growing pains.

Mark Pauly, a health economist at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, said he had some concerns about Walmart’s health care business model. “I’m a little skeptical that there’s a gold mine there for Walmart, but God bless them, let them give it a shot,” Pauly said. “My main reason for skepticism is I don’t see a lot of money in primary care.”

Some of the most profitable health care procedures are knee replacement or hip replacement. “If you really wanted to make money, that’s where the money is,” Pauly said.

Walmart Health centers are staffed with providers who include doctors, dentists and behavioral health care providers, Walmart said.

Walmart Health “is primary care for people with no serious illnesses who are on the way to picking up the African violet in the garden center and decide to drop by about a cough that won’t go away,” Pauly said.

There are a number of other providers in the clinic space now and it is expected to get more crowded, Field said.

“But there’s also other reasons that you would go to a clinic affiliated with a large retailer,” he said. “It also has a pharmacy and has over-the-counter drugs and all other health-related items you might want.”

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