Walmart Takes On Big Healthcare
American healthcare providers or Big Healthcare are at a critical crossroad. This is actually a seminal moment for the American Healthcare System whether traditional players recognize it or not. For far too long Big Healthcare players like hospitals, medical and dental groups have embraced and profited from the virtues of ironically labeled “free market medicine” while taking shelter in the system’s inability to provide meaningful and simple information to consumers, like price and quality indicators.
Setting its sights on Big Healthcare and the $3 Trillion American Healthcare market, Walmart Care Clinic officially launched in September 2019 in Dallas, Georgia with other locations in Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas. With definitive plans to roll out many more clinics around the country Walmart’s Dallas, GA location alone is delivering a robust offering of healthcare services including primary care, dental, counseling, labs & x-rays, health screenings, optometry, hearing, fitness & nutrition, and health insurance education and enrollment.
It’s not that Walmart is now throwing sunshine on a closed market publishing prices and delivering care at lower prices. It’s the host of efficiencies through supply-chain management that are already in place that ought to make Big Healthcare pay serious attention. Make no mistake about it, Walmart Care Clinic has its sights on taking business from hospitals, primary and tertiary care physician, dental offices, radiologists, and alike. In free and transparent markets, competitors usually respond to market forces in thoughtfully and meaningfully. For example, when Charles Schwab recently announced zero commissions for trading stocks, their competitors seemingly responded in kind within hours. What’s Big Healthcare’s response to Walmart’s healthcare entrée? Crickets. No response. In this scenario it appears Big Healthcare is playing newspapers to Walmart’s internet, Blockbuster to Netflix.
Walmart is not the only problem for Big Healthcare. Amazon and CVS are too, but that’s discussion for another day. And while Big Healthcare including hospitals, medical and dental providers have been beefing up through consolidation creating conglomerates of care which are woefully top-heavy, others like One Medical have created a healthcare empire being nimble. With about 70 offices across the country and looking to IPO in first quarter of 2020, One Medical continues to innovate by relying on technology and patient care experience design to keep ahead of the pack. Big Healthcare has been largely silent on One Medical’s success as well. What’s certain is Big Healthcare is poised for big losses in this space if it doesn’t adjust and respond to both the Walmart’s and One Medicals of the world.
The flurry of mergers and acquisitions among hospitals, medical and dental practices is following conventional wisdom and making an already bloated, lethargic system even heavier, at a time when the need to be nimbler seems to be critical. With 90% of Americans living within driving distance of a Walmart and about 50% already shop there, Walmart’s bet on price transparency, delivering great care while streamlining access and making the customer experience easy is on the money.
What Big Healthcare doesn’t realize is that they have a built in and distinct advantage against Walmart. They already have the market. They have the patients and the patient relationships, so the market is theirs to lose. If they don’t adjust in a meaningful and timely fashion, business reporters and business schools around the country may very be talking about Big Healthcare the way they talk about newspapers and Blockbuster. Another critical element to consider in this scenario is Walmart knows how to compete against ruthless opponents. It’s main rival, Amazon, specializes in putting people out of business, and there’s every reason to believe that Walmart is bringing that competitive spirit into healthcare. In fact, Walmart who was largely seen as lagging in e-commerce behind Amazon and Ali Baba and delivered a whopping 37% increase in eCommerce sales in Q1, 2019.
While Big Healthcare is still trying to figure out bundled payments, Walmart has published prices, and I predict that soon, it will use its advertising purse to advertise prices putting serious pressure on healthcare providers. And while Big Healthcare is debating the merits of patching electronic medical records and introducing consumer facing digital tools, One Medical has been integrating tech and healthcare through its app for years.
Big Healthcare has some soul searching to do, but it must do it quickly and thoughtfully because the market is theirs to lose. The wave of consolidations over the past couple of years among hospitals, medical and dental practices may bring comfort to the C-suite because spreadsheets say they can better negotiate with insurance companies, buy at lower costs, and so on. But today’s healthcare market demands agility and transparency, while rejecting bureaucracy to ensure exceptional care and even better patient experience. Only healthcare players who are willing to meaningfully embrace and adjust to the demands and spirit of the marketplace will survive and thrive in this environment.