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Wal-Mart expanding its healthcare services

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
Wal-Mart, healthcare, immuniszations, HPV, hepatitis, meningitis

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has announced that it will begin offering vaccinations for infectious diseases beyond influenza and pneumonia at 2,700 U.S. stores next Monday. The move signals the company’s expansion into healthcare services. The chain will offer 10 immunizations recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including injections for shingles, meningitis, hepatitis, and human papillomavirus (HPV).

Under a contract with Mollen Immunization Clinics, the vaccinations will be available via pop-up kiosks at the front of Wal-Mart stores. Mollen manages a registered-nurse network out of Scottsdale, Arizona and has been administering flu shots for Wal-Mart for the past few years.

In its search for new avenues of growth, Wal-Mart is broadening its stake in the multibillion-dollar healthcare business. In 2010, the chain successfully launched a Medicare prescription drug plan with hospital operator Humana Inc. In 2006, it made a big hit with its offering of a $4 generic-drug program. Those ventures have ratcheted up Wal-Mart's health-and-wellness business segment, which includes pharmacy services and over-the-counter drugs. That segment accounted for 11% of the Wal-Mart’s $264.2 billion in US sales for its last fiscal year.

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Wal-Mart has not enjoyed success in all areas of its healthcare endeavors. A pledge by former CEO Lee Scott to open as many as 2,000 retail health clinics by 2012 fell short of the mark; with approximately 150 clinics across the nation, the company notes that its clinics remain a pilot program. In 2011, Wal-Mart sent healthcare providers a 14-page request for information, announcing the company’s goal of being “the largest provider of primary healthcare services in the nation.” It subsequently backtracked on its ambitions after the document leaked to the press.

With its thrust into an expanded suite of immunizations beyond flu shots and pneumonia, Wal-Mart joins companies such as Walgreen Co. and CVS Caremark Inc., which have been ramping up the number of injections they provide. Wal-Mart notes that by using a network of nurses, instead of pharmacists, it will be able to administer a larger variety of shots to more individuals.

Last year, the US Department of Health and Human Services requested an expanded overall use of vaccines last year, particularly for adolescents and adults; the goal is to ward off easily preventable diseases. The department has sought out retailers to provide greater access to a wider array of immunizations and provide more exposure to injections such as the HPV vaccine, which is still not widely administered. In 2010, 20.7% of women aged 19 to 26 years received the HPV vaccination, according to the CDC, compared with 40.5% of adults over age 18 who received flu vaccinations.

Reference: Wal-Mart