Thursday, April 26, 2007
Wal-Mart's Healthcare Trojan Horse
Wal-Mart plans to open another few hundred clinics in the next two or three years, and "if current market forces continue, up to 2000 clinics could be in stores in the next five to seven years" -- that's about half of the number of stores that Wal-Mart currently has in the US. Of course Wal-Mart keeps opening stores, but nonetheless, you can easily see that if every second or third Wal-Mart has a clinic it will substantially change the way that people get routine health care.
I don't shop much at Wal-Mart, and I didn't know about the in-store health clinics. But now another Wal-Mart initiative from late last year makes a lot more sense. In "Big Employers Plan Electronic Health Records" they announced along with Intel, BP, and other big employers (between them they have millions of employees) a plan to create an electronic health record standard and store records in a multimillion-dollar-data warehouse linking hospitals, doctors and pharmacies. Wal-Mart's huge purchasing power will drive costs down and mandate the use of bar codes, RFID, and other technologies that improve the end-to-end efficiency of the "healthcare supply chain." So Wal-Mart's gazillion customers as well as its employees (and many of Intel's etc.) will eventually be brought into the EHR system, and the in-store clinics are the perfect "Trojan Horse" to make that happen naturally and painlessly. We might actually end up with a semi-efficient healthcare delivery system in this country thanks to Wal-Mart.
You should shop at Wal Mart more often. I think you'll find that Wal Mart delivers a reasonably good product in a convenient way. Where else can you buy groceries, socks, and motor oil--all in one place? I don't like Wal Mart (because they do destroy local merchants, and pay their employees poorly), but they are a juggernaut. They can and will drive down costs and increase quality, and all they have to do is decide to make it so. But, I'm not sure I like unfettered free market principles dominating health care. There is a place for "public utilities" that exist for the benefit of everyone. Health care exists primarily for those who can afford it. I don't want Wal Mart determining what kind of health care I will have, and the price I will pay.
If people need to save money, they just need to stop buying crap they don't need. THAT'S how you spend less. Very few lower/middle families are spending less just by shopping at wal mart. Most spend more because Wal mart sells the shopping experience as a form of entertainment and americans are falling for it. Go to any small town in America and everything already revolves around the Wal Mart. The parking lots are full of unemployed americans drinking beer in their trucks.
Wal Mart exists because WE let them.