Today at the Health Care Globalization Summit in Las Vegas kicked off with a much-anticipated presentation by John Agwunobi, president of health and wellness at Wal-Mart.
The world's largest retailer, he said, is moving into health care, setting up clinics in its U.S. stores that "co-brand" with local hospitals to provide basic care for customers -- mostly simple tests, shots and treatments for colds and ear infections. The first three opened in February in Atlanta, Little Rock and Dallas, with another 76 opening since. The company expects to have 400 clinics by 2010.
Agwunobi, a pediatrician and former top official with the US Department of Health, said no appointments are needed and wait times are no more than 15 minutes. He says Wal-Mart's move into health care will shake up the medical industry by forcing doctors and hospitals to be more "consumer friendly." The old model for health care, he said, "is being pushed aside."
Agwunobi said part of the incentive for Wal-Mart to get into the business, including selling cheap generic medicine, was the boom in Americans filling their prescriptions in Canada, where prices are lower, and the millions of Americans with no health insurance who need cheap care.
The clinics, he said, also take stress off local emergency rooms.
Agwunobi was mobbed in the hall after his keynote by conference delegates, all strong advocates of consumer-driving health care. That's where he confirmed Wal-Mart hopes to bring the concept to Canada one day, as well as Brazil and Mexico.
But there are limitations, he said.
"There will never be a day when we are delivering babies in Aisle 5," he said.