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Walmart zeroes in on health, wellness

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Walmart has always been a customer-driven organization, and today that orientation is much in evidence as the discounter looks to make its already formidable pharmacy, health and wellness business a more prominent part of the U.S. health care system.

With the Affordable Care Act extending coverage to millions of additional Americans, Walmart has a chance to help reshape health care delivery in this country. The company strives to provide real value — high-quality products and service as well as low cost — in pharmacy, health and wellness.

In terms of price, Walmart perhaps made the biggest impact with the launch of its $4 generic drug program a decade ago, but customers regularly realize substantial savings in the over-the-counter medication section and other categories that support well-being, including vision care, food and beverages, exercise equipment, electronics, and apparel.

And ensuring access to quality health care is part of Walmart’s strategy to foster engagement. To that end, the company has altered its in-store health clinic strategy, opting to move away from partnerships toward staffing and running its own facilities. Walmart now operates 18 clinics, in Georgia, South Carolina and Texas, with two more set to open this year.

Part of the clinics’ job is to provide low-cost primary care for employees — they pay just $4 for routine visits — and challenge the industrywide pricing model in an effort to increase transparency and bring prices down for all Walmart customers. While still early in the game, the clinics have the potential to do for that part of the health care system what $4 generics did for pharmacy.

With 140 million people shopping its 4,500 stores in the U.S. every week, Walmart offers unequaled access to health and wellness products — including items in such categories as food and beverages, exercise equipment, electronics, and apparel — backed by the expertise of its 15,600 pharmacists, 30,000 pharmacy technicians and nurse practitioners.

Executives indicate that president and chief executive officer Doug McMillon — along with Greg Foran, president and CEO of Walmart U.S., and other members of top management — understand the importance of health-related categories for the people who shop the retailer’s stores and are prepared to leverage the company’s assets to help customers get and stay well.

The stepped-up commitment is reflected in the design of new stores. The latest iteration of the Walmart Supercenter positions key health and wellness categories — pharmacy, clinic, O-T-Cs and vision care — in proximity. In addition, the new outlets include health services rooms, where pharmacists can interact with patients in privacy and administer such services as routine diagnostic screenings and flu shots and other ­immunizations.

One of the biggest challenges the company faces is getting more of the people who patronize its Supercenters and Neighborhood Markets to grasp its reach in pharmacy, health and wellness. No retailer offers a broader selection in those product segments, but many consumers haven’t connected the dots and fail to understand that the one-stop shopping Walmart is known for in such areas as consumables and general merchandise is also available in health-related ­categories.

The company can do well by doing good. Pharmacy, health and wellness customers spend more, are more loyal and make more frequent visits to the retailer than the typical Walmart shopper, according to executives. They say those results warrant a substantial investment in training, systems and the store environment to enhance the customer ­experience. The strategy is designed not only to attract more patients but to improve outcomes and do so efficiently and economically. That, in turn, should make Walmart a more attractive partner for third-party payers in both the public and private ­sectors.


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