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What If Every Walmart Had An Imaging Clinic?

November 18, 2011
Written by: , Filed in: Practice Management
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Calm down; last week’s leaked document revealed that Walmart had an interest in becoming the nation’s largest provider of primary health-care services—not imaging.

Kaiser Health News and NPR obtained the document and reported its contents last week. Walmart was requesting information from potential partners about “dramatically” reducing the cost of health care by building “a national, integrated, low-cost primary care healthcare platform.”

The company subsequently backed away from part, but not all, of the document.

On Thursday, Julie Appleby of Kaiser Health News followed up on the idea: “Just as Walmart and other retailers shook up the prescription drug business by offering $4 generic drugs, the industry now aims to apply its negotiating and marketing clout to tackle problems that vex consumers and the health sector: unpredictable costs, a lack of primary care doctors and inefficient management of chronic illnesses, whose costs drive the majority of health care spending.”

The article quoted Jerry Avorn, MD, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, as saying:

It’s sad that the existing health care establishment has not figured out a way to make primary care affordable and accessible. We should not be surprised if someone outside of our world comes in and does it for us.

If Walmart can make that work, why wouldn’t it consider adding medical imaging to its portfolio of services?  You think maybe the world’s largest retail chain might be in a position to negotiate volume discounts for everything from scrubs to imaging machines? With the patient traffic that its own primary care clinics could generate, a Walmart imaging clinic might actually be able to achieve the 75 or 80 percent utilization rate fantasized about by Medicare reimbursement cost cutters.

Walmart’s muscle could force the kinds of health care cost reductions that have eluded politicians. Of course, Walmart wouldn’t really be interested in whether it “bends the cost curve” in health care. Its goal would be to shift as much of that spending as possible to Walmart.

The company hasn’t revealed any actual plans to get into the imaging business. But the biggest threat to the providers of any specialized goods or services is someone who converts those goods or services into a commodity—and prices them accordingly. Walmart is good at that.

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Happy Friday; enjoy today’s Facebook post.

Related seminar: The Business of Radiology

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