Walmart is hoping to do for health care what it has done for retailing.

Walmart, health care, medical services, request for information, RFI, discount store, retailer, health care strategy, disease management, health and wellness services, preventive care, acute care, diagnostics, costs of health care

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Walmart eyes major expansion in health care

November 9th, 2011

BENTONVILLE, Ark. – Walmart is hoping to do for health care what it has done for retailing.

The discount store giant is exploring ways to offer a broader range of medical services, ranging from chronic disease management and preventive care to diagnostics, health and wellness services, and acute care.

Walmart is reaching out to vendors for proposals on ways to proceed with its health care strategy. To that end, the company has put out a request for information (RFI) document, as first reported by NPR and Kaiser Health News, that outlines its objectives and options. The NPR report on Wednesday said the RFI was confirmed by a Walmart spokeswoman, who declined to provide more details.

"Walmart's overall impact on the retail industry and beyond has changed the way business is conducted globally and increased consumer benefits — regardless of where they shop or seek health care," the Walmart RFI stated, noting that the retailer has "the opportunity to positively impact the lives of millions of people every day."

"Millions of people around the world are struggling with the costs of health care," the document said. "To help ease the strain, we are using the strengths of our business to drive costs out of health care and bring our customers the lowest prices on the products and services they need to stay healthy."

According to the RFI, medical and other health care services that Walmart is exploring include management of such chronic conditions as diabetes, asthma, hypertension, heart disease, COPD, obesity, arthritis, sleep apnea, osteoporosis and kidney disease, as well as management of prescription medications for those conditions.

Diagnostic services under consideration include allergy, lipid panel, urine, blood count, blood glucose, hemoglobin, prothrombin, metabolic, streptococcal, PSA, pregnancy, STD and cytophathology testing plus drug screening and thyroid function assessment.

In the area of preventive care and health and wellness services, Walmart is looking at vaccinations, physical exams, health risk assessments, healthy eating education, stress and sleep management, health screenings and education, durable medical equipment support and education, and disease screening, as well as smoking cessation, pregnancy evaluation, heart health, weight evaluation and nutrition counseling. Acute care services being considered include skin, hair and nail exams; head, ear, eye, nose and throat exams; digestive and urinary exams; and respiratory exams.

"Walmart seeks to dramatically lower the cost of health care while maintaining or improving outcomes and expand access to high-quality health services by becoming the largest provider of primary health care services in the nation," Walmart said in the RFI. "More specifically, Walmart will use its retail and multichannel footprint to offer
the lowest-cost primary health care services and products in the nation. It will create geographically relevant delivery capabilities and seek to drive down the cost of services and products while maintaining a high quality of care. Services will include but not be limited to clinical care, diagnostic services, preventative services, and health and wellness products."

Walmart stressed in the document that proposals from vendors must "support efficient delivery of low-cost care" in terms of the ownership and financial models, data integration, the health care support and delivery network, care integration, the back office, logistics and facilities, and technology. The company also noted that the care delivery and support network proposed by vendors should enable them to provide services and products in a multichannel environment, such as traditional support methods, self-service and online under a "strategic partnership/vendor arrangement."

"Walmart seeks to identify and implement specific technologies, processes or assets that directly support providing these services. Further, Walmart seeks strategic partners to rapidly create a comprehensive health care solution to deliver low-cost, high-quality primary health care services nationally," the company stated in the RFI. "Walmart seeks strategic partners who are capable of delivering services and solutions that are convenient, accessible, affordable, consistent, scalable and integrated."

According to the document, the RFI was distributed to vendors beginning late last month, and Walmart will be fielding vendor responses, feedback and presentations through the end of the year, with final vendor selections in January.

On Wednesday afternoon, after news of the health care strategy had spread online, John Agwunobi, senior vice president and president of Walmart U.S. Health & Wellness, issued a statement to clarify the scope of the RFI and convey that the company is only in an exploratory stage.

"The RFI statement of intent is overwritten and incorrect. We are not building a national, integrated, low-cost primary care health care platform," Agwunobi stated.

With more than 3,800 discount stores, supercenters and other formats plub over 600 Sam's Club warehouse clubs in the United States, Walmart already has a major presence in retail consumer health care and retail pharmacy. The company is the nation's third-largest pharmacy chain by dollar volume, with estimated sales of $21.43 billion, and the fourth-largest by pharmacy count, with about 4,400 pharmacies, according to the 2011 Annual Report of Retail Pharmacy by Chain Drug Review.

*Editor's Note: Article updated with statement from Walmart.