Walmart’s In-store Clinics are the Next Step in Urgent Care Surge

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urgent-healthcare-industryThe nation’s largest retailer wants to provide you with more than groceries, electronics, and home goods. With the opening of five in-store clinics in Texas and South Carolina, Walmart is hoping to give rural and recently-insured customers access to affordable, convenient healthcare they might not be able to find elsewhere. The clinics are fully owned by Walmart and staffed by medical professionals.

Unlike other retail clinics at CVS and Walgreens, the Walmart clinics aim to provide primary care. Retail clinics have become a popular option for treating common illnesses like flu, but Walmart offers treatment for chronic illnesses such as diabetes. By opening their first locations in more rural areas, the store aims to fill a gap in the healthcare industry and serve patients who have trouble finding access to a primary care doctor. Many of these patients are new to health insurance, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Although the clinics are supervised by physicians, nurse practitioners, who have the ability to prescribe almost all of the same medications, provide individual care.

Researchers say that changing dynamics caused by the Affordable Care Act is behind the recent surge in urgent care facilities around the U.S., as well. According to the Urgent Care Association of America, there are now close to 9,000 urgent care clinics, and the number could grow by as much as 10 percent per year. Patients are now demanding greater access to affordable healthcare and better medical options for their families.

Low cost is not the only reason urgent care facilities are so in-demand. Visiting a private doctor or specialist has increasingly become associated with long wait times and red tape, while urgent care allows patients to receive exams and x-rays quickly, even on evenings and weekends. Without urgent cares, the only after-hours option for treatment are emergency rooms, where overcrowding and sky-high costs abound.

Facilities like the ones Walmart has opened are part of a revolution in the way medical care is delivered to those in need. The boom in retail clinics and urgent care centers is evidence of a push by patients, their employers, and the government to make low-cost care options more convenient and better quality. Walmart plans to open more clinics around the country, including a sixth one in Palestine, Texas and another six by the end of the year. Their commitment to providing coordinated, comprehensive care may end up benefiting everyone.

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