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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Wal-Mart expands in-store clinics

Now this is an idea we rarely hear about. Clinics in retails stores such as Wal-Mart but other establishments are mentioned such as CVS and Walgreen's. Talk about expanding health care and even finding ways to lower costs.

You know what if Wal-Mart is to consider expanding into poor minority neighborhoods in Chicago, this should prove to be one good side effect. Someone has a child that needs to see a doctor. Now if only this meant that opposition to Wal-Mart would lighten up. Take a look...
Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, said Tuesday it has plans to dramatically expand the number of health clinics it operates, opening as many as 400 in U.S. stores in the next three years and possibly 2,000 of them within five to seven years.

With its extraordinary reach and power, the proliferation of Wal-Mart clinics providing customers with access to simple medical treatment is almost certain to have an impact. Given enough scale, it could put pressure on other big retailers to follow suit, which in turn could force primary-care physicians to become more competitive on pricing.

"This is just one of many changes that are coming in health care in the future," said David Fortosis, senior vice president in the health and benefits practice Aon Consulting Inc.

At its heart, though, the clinics are designed to provide consumers with another reason to shop at their neighborhood Wal-Mart, especially if the clinics are opened as planned in 55 percent of U.S. stores by 2012. The clinics would earn fees but also provide a constant supply of prescription business for the company's highly profitable pharmacies.

Wal-Mart was praised last year for lowering the cost of many generic drug prescriptions, another move that single-handedly brought in more customers and forced rivals to respond.

"This is the way they run their business. They are always trying to increase the number of people coming through the front door," said George Whalin, founder of Retail Management Consultants in San Marcos, Calif.

Lee Scott, Wal-Mart's president and chief executive, acknowledged the marketing aspect of the plan but also emphasized how the clinics can provide greater health-care access. At existing Wal-Mart clinics, he said, more than half the patients are uninsured.

"We think the clinics will be a great opportunity for our business," he said. "But most importantly, they are going to provide something our customers and communities desperately need -- affordable access at the local level to quality health care."

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