Walmartization of Healthcare

September 25, 2014
Vikash Panghaal, MD, MBA

A radiologist longs for the “mom and pop” days of healthcare.

When I was growing up “mom and pop” grocery and retail stores were slowly being replaced by bigger chain stores. At first, I remember many people were against the trend of stores getting bigger, but as the bigger chain stores began to slowly replace the “mom and pop” stores, people started to get used to the idea of a one-stop-shop where they can get all of their household items in one store. The lower prices also helped fuel public acceptance. During the past decade, the large retail chain stores, such as Walmart, Target, Costco, etc. still exist and continue to flourish. Despite their success, many individuals are shifting away from the large retail chain stores and the pendulum is slowly moving to the smaller retailers who can provide higher quality and personalization, like local farmers’ markets.

The idea that large stores cannot provide high quality merchandise and services is not necessarily true, but it is not the norm. A low price, low quality store that comes to mind is Walmart. As I walk down the aisles of Walmart, I cannot believe how low the prices are for certain items, including food. In today’s agricultural environment where livestock animals are fed unnatural food and crops are grown using genetically modified seeds with a greater quantity of pesticides, one has to wonder the quality of food that is sold at retailers such as Walmart.

Walmart has its hand in many industries including groceries, guns, pharmacy, cigarettes, and eyewear to name a few. Recently, Walmart has decided to get into the healthcare business.  A few weeks ago I watched a segment of NBC News discussing Walmart’s new Care Clinic, which just opened up in Georgia. The Walmart Care Clinic will be staffed by mid-level providers, such as nurse practitioners and will charge $40 for walk-in patients. A recent article in Bloomberg View pointed out the convenience of going to this type of clinic and dismissed the importance of having a central primary care physician who knows you and your medical problems. [[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_crop","fid":"28016","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image media-image-right","id":"media_crop_3504781312779","media_crop_h":"0","media_crop_image_style":"-1","media_crop_instance":"2797","media_crop_rotate":"0","media_crop_scale_h":"0","media_crop_scale_w":"0","media_crop_w":"0","media_crop_x":"0","media_crop_y":"0","style":"height: 75px; width: 165px; border-width: 0px; border-style: solid; margin: 1px; float: right;","title":" ","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]

Society is consistently pushing towards low cost everything and we are currently in a similar situation in the healthcare industry, that the grocery and apparel industry faced many decades ago. While the push for low cost healthcare is necessary, quality may suffer. The idea that replacing physicians with mid-level providers to cut costs sounds good initially, however, the back end costs of lower trained providers either misdiagnosing patients or ordering more tests will likely end up costing more money in the long run.

It will be interesting to see which large organizations will stay around and continue to keep the trust of patients. Physicians will need to come together in larger groups to compete with these corporations.

Related Content:

Facility Management | News