WESLEY CHAPEL — Walmart might not be the first name that comes to mind when it comes to health care but it has established vaccinations, vision centers and pharmacies as part of its shopping experience.
Now the retail giant is set to take a bolder step into the Florida health care market with the opening of five heath centers in stores across the state, including one on State Road 54 in Wesley Chapel. Plans are underway to open another in Brandon.
Branded as Walmart Health, the centers offer primary care, labs, X-ray and EKG services. Behavioral health and counseling are also available, as well as dental, optical and hearing specialists. The clinics, typically around 6,500 square feet, have separate entrances in addition to an in-store entrance.
Walmart has already trialed the concept with 24 centers operating in Arkansas, Illinois and Georgia. Its first Florida centers opened in Jacksonville and Orlando in April.
While some retailers like CVS and Walgreens have expanded in-store health care as a way to drive up foot traffic, Walmart is characterizing its entry into the market as a way to better the lives of its customers, especially in rural communities where access is limited, said David Carmouche, senior vice president of Omnichannel Care Offerings at Walmart. In many of those communities, the local supercenter is a hub of the community.
“When we talk to our customer about pain points in their lives, health care is one,” he said. “Walmart doesn’t have to do health care to drive people into its stores. This is really a service offering.”
Walmart sees Florida as an ideal market for the venture.
The state’s population is estimated to increase by 7 million between 2020 and 2040, according to research by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia. That will make it a struggle to deliver health care across the whole state, especially in less populated areas, Carmouche said. Walmart has about 380 stores across the state.
Nationwide, 90% of the population is within 10 miles of a Walmart, with 4,000 stores in areas that the Health Resources and Services Administration, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, has designated as medically underserved areas.
“Across Florida and much of the country, Walmart Supercenters lie at the intersection of where folks live but health services aren’t necessarily available.” Carmouche said. ”We think we have a role to play.”
But the move may make business sense too in the wake of a pandemic. An AlixPartners 2021 health and wellness survey of six major world markets, including the United States, found that half of consumers believe a healthy lifestyle has become more important over the past year.
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To compete with conventional clinics, Walmart is emphasizing affordability and convenience. The centers are open 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Mondays to Fridays and from 9 a.m. to 5 pm. Saturdays. A telehealth service is available on Sundays.
The centers will be “in-network” for most major health insurers and they accept Medicare and Medicaid. There is also an effort to help those who are uninsured with lower prices, Carmouche said.
Prices are displayed on the wall in the clinic lobby. A sick or injury visit or an annual checkup costs $90. An eye exam is $85 and a new-patient dental examination is $40.
The clinics will be staffed by board-certified medical professionals, including doctors, nurses and dentists who are employed by health care companies Walmart is partnering with. Walmart is also employing community health workers at the centers to give customers advice on the services available and other assistance.
Carmouche said the centers already open in Florida have proved popular even without significant marketing. The centers already operating in other states are seeing a high rate of return business, he said.
“We weren’t sure if people would want to have health care services at a Walmart clinic and they have,” he said. “We feel like we’re putting a good product out there.”