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Does Walmart want to be your doctor and how would that work?

The world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart, in Chicago, IL. In October, Walmart issued a
The world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart, in Chicago, IL. In October, Walmart issued a "Request for Information," seeking partners to help expand its health care offerings.
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The nation's largest retailer and employer wants to become its largest primary-care provider as well. According to a report from NPR and Kaiser Health News, Walmart is planning to offer medical services ranging from basic prevention like the flu shot to the management of chronic conditions such as diabetes and HIV.

Walmart has since issued a statement disputing that report, saying it was "overwritten and incorrect," but declined to say which parts were incorrect. In Walmart's original request for information, on which the report was based, it asked firms to spell out their expertise on a wide variety of areas in primary care, seeking partners to help "dramatically [...] lower the cost of healthcare." Skeptics believe the retailer is likely attempting to boost store traffic by beefing up in-store primary care clinics, but others say it points to a real problem down the road when President Obama's Affordable Care Act takes effect in 2014 and insures millions more Americans. That will lead to a shortage in primary care givers and analysts argue Wa-Mart could fill that need by offering certain health care services that don't require customization or a doctor.


Does every medical interaction need to be highly customized? Or are there certain healthcare interactions that can be delivered at a low-cost, semi-customized kind of way? Is this a viable model to providing widely accessible healthcare or a race to the bottom in quality of care?


Adam Fein, president of Pembroke Consulting and a healthcare business expert

Ann O’Malle, physician and senior health researcher, Center for Studying Health System Change, a non-partisan Washington think tank