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Wal-Mart's Rx for health care

The retailer is opening cheap, convenient clinics in its superstores -- and calling on Washington to fix the really big problems.
CNN Money.com, April 3, 1007 - Rik Kirkland, FORTUNE senior editor-at-large, wrote,

NEW YORK (FORTUNE) - When Wal-Mart announced recently that it would open medical clinics in supercenters across the country, the news coverage went something like this: Get ready for a battle of the titans. America's most admired, most vilified, most shopped-at retailer is finally taking on the $2-trillion-a-year U.S. health-care market, a hulking giant just begging to be whipped into shape by Wal-Mart's vaunted efficiency and everyday low pricing. It's Ali vs. Foreman, Mothra meets Godzilla, right?

Not exactly. Stop by the Wal-Mart (Research) in a place like Owasso, Okla., five miles northeast of Tulsa, and you do see signs of something interesting going on. Between the Smart Styles hair salon and the Kids Fun Center is the new RediClinic, three freshly painted, stark-white rooms staffed by nurse practitioners licensed to prescribe drugs.

A smiling receptionist hands out fliers touting a flat $45 fee for "Get Well" visits. That price includes all the tests necessary to diagnose and prescribe for everyday ailments like colds, flu, strep throat and pink eye. If you're uninsured, as roughly half the clinic's customers are, it's a big saving over the $95 or so that a regular doctor's visit would cost in this part of the country, and a huge savings over the $400 a hospital emergency room might charge.

Another pamphlet offers a menu of "Stay Well" screenings for basic preventive medicine. For instance: a $29 blood test to determine your cholesterol profile with glucose, vs. what RediClinic claims is a "retail" price of $65. (Thirty minutes south down Highway 169, the Wal-Mart in Broken Arrow touts an "end-of-season special" on flu shots--"Now only $20.")

This mix of transparent prices, electronic efficiency (patients can access test results online using a password), and convenient hours (7 A.M. to 7 P.M. weekdays, 8 A.M. to 6 P.M. Saturdays, and noon to five on Sundays) looks, for now at least, like a winning formula. Continued...


UPDATES:
June 25, 2007 - AMA to seek regulation of retail health clinics
June 26, 2007 - AMA to seek probe of US retail health clinics

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