By Genni Burkhart
Stepping further into the oral healthcare space, Walmart recently announced preparations to double its in-store clinics.
With the opening of its first clinic in 2019, Walmart Health is expanding to 75 clinics in four markets by 2024. The retail giant recently announced plans to add 28 health clinics to Walmart Supercenters in Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, and Kansas City, Missouri.
The clinics offer various services, including primary care, dental services, mental health counseling, and lab testing. Walmart Health plans to partner with local healthcare providers to create a comprehensive healthcare system inside Walmart Supercenters.
In addition to expanding dental care at in-person clinics, Walmart is partnering with quip to offer "virtual dental care from anywhere." Simply download the app, send photos for specific issues such as a broken tooth or abscess, or send in a few more photos to get a "full" dental checkup for preventative measures and second opinions. There's also the option to see a dentist via video chat. These virtual visit prices start at $35 and are covered by most dental insurance.
While the expansion is seen as a way to increase preventative oral healthcare and expand access to professional dental care for those without insurance or access to care, some dentists are asking, "Why would patients go to Walmart for dental care?" Furthermore, do these clinics truly offer quality dental care?
Why Would Patients Consider Walmart Dental?
Similarly to mobile dentistry, Walmart targets those who only visit the dentist occasionally or have limited access to oral care.
Walmart Health patients can access dental checkups, cleanings, and other oral care services without leaving the store. With that, Walmart aims to make oral health care more accessible and affordable. Additionally, Walmart has partnered with licensed dental service providers to offer fillings, preventative care, extractions, root canals, crowns and bridges, gum therapy, sealants, in-office teeth whitening, and fluoride treatments. This partnership makes dental services more affordable for customers and helps those who cannot pay for such services out-of-pocket.
These services appeal to some people as a convenience, while others might benefit from this service as a necessity. It also saves people money on healthcare costs, as a virtual visit is usually lower than an in-person visit, which is especially beneficial for those without access to affordable healthcare options. Additionally, virtual visits can be more convenient for those with busy schedules.
Quality of Care
As Walmart Health (comprised of independent dental practices and physicians) states on its website, "We understand healthcare can be a scary industry, we are here to help make it simple, and affordable and offer the highest level of care for you and your family."
In a March 3rd article by Richard Payerchin on medicaleconomics.com, David Carmouche, MD, the senior vice president for Walmart's Omnichannel Care program stated, "Our patients come to us to receive high-quality care that works for their schedule – and within their budget." Carmouche continues, "We hear from our providers that they enjoy the team-based approach to care that values all clinicians and enables them to practice at the very top of their license."
Using patient feedback as a design guide for the newest locations, Walmart Health will include Epic electronic health records and transform the layout so patients spend more time with physicians, not in the waiting room.
However, some reports have surfaced that the billing software has failed, and the retailer is "struggling" with price transparency, billing, and credentialing physicians, according to a 2021 Insider report.
There's little doubt that access to healthcare is one of the biggest problems facing millions of Americans. Unfortunately, far too many people lack access to primary dental care due to financial and geographical barriers - a problem perhaps well-suited for a giant super-chain retailer such as Walmart. For now, Walmart Health is available at a limited number of stores. However, if Walmart Health can expand and make healthcare more accessible and affordable in more markets, it could be a game-changer for millions of Americans.
Furthermore, Walmart Health is targeting dental patients who don't see a dentist regularly or have access to traditional routes of care. Walmart Health hopes to bridge the gap in healthcare access and affordability for those who need it most. They are also looking to use their resources to provide preventative care and help people maintain their overall health, from audiology to optometry, vaccines, and well-care checkups.
Adding its name to the corporate healthcare industry, Amazon announced earlier this year that it plans to enter primary care by acquiring One Medical for $3.9 billion. Among the world's largest corporations, Amazon's move has sparked a debate around how healthcare should be delivered, and more corporations are likely to follow.
This growth could lead to a drastic shift in how patients receive care and create more competition in the healthcare industry. While your dental patients aren't the likely demographic for this recent expansion, dental professionals should be (and stay) aware of corporate development in the oral healthcare space.
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Author: With over 13 years as a published journalist, editor, and writer Genni Burkhart's career has spanned politics, healthcare, law, business finance, technology, and news. She resides on the western shores of the idyllic Puget Sound, where she works as the Editor in Chief for the Incisor at DOCS Education out of Seattle, WA.