Rerun: Maybe Walmart should open a hospital instead

The Health Business Blog is taking a break this week and is rerunning some favorite posts. If you want to comment, please do so on the original post.

Kaiser Health News and NPR found a request for information letterfrom Walmart to prospective partners saying the retailer was seeking help to “dramatically … lower the cost of healthcare … by becoming the largest provider of primary healthcare services in the nation.” When asked, Walmart denied that it had such an objective.

Walmart is probably planning to build a network of in-store clinics that are a lot like MinuteClinics. Walmart’s already had a couple false starts in this arena and there’s no great reason to be confident that it will be successful this time around. Most people seem to think Walmart mainly wants to boost retail traffic.

As the article points out, primary care is not where the costs are. Rather, the big money is in specialty physicians and hospitals. I’d like to see Walmart de-emphasize its me-too store clinic strategy and do something bold and potentially impactful.

Open a hospital for instance. Maybe partner with Toyota or Apple to do so.

Ok, I know it’s a completely impractical suggestion, but I would really like to see someone apply Walmart’s supply chain and retail expertise, Toyota’s process engineering and Apple’s design philosophy toward health care. Rather than start with the presumption that everything is going to be expensive, complex and opaque, go for a lean, mean, yet elegant structure.

It’s probably impossible to build such a facility in the US. But maybe the first one can be set up just across the border in Mexico, drawing traffic from north and south of the border –probably self-pay and high deductible patients to start. Staffing will clearly be a challenge, but with the right setup it could become an attractive place to work.

The Walmart $4 generic issue was a bold move. Copying MinuteClinics is not. Why not go for something more worthwhile?

February 23, 2012