Two retail titans are competing to provide a whole new model of healthcare delivery to Americans in the comforts of their own homes, or as easy as a trip to the store.
Walmart had the physical stores, 4800 buildings already standing and staffed in the U.S. and already drawing in-person traffic of 240 million general merchandise customers globally per week. Walmart also had opticians, pharmacies, and vaccination spaces inside many of their stores, along with grocery and carry out. It is not a long walk to adding in-person medical exam spaces, and they are well underway in that effort now. They promise faster access and less expensive medical visits.
In 2021, Walmart also made major healthcare business moves to build what it calls its "Omnicare" model. Among them were two high profile deals. Not to be left out of the telehealth tidal wave, in 2021 Walmart purchased MeMD, a telehealth platform, to link in person visits with telemedicine patient service access. Walmart also partnered with EPIC, the EHR (electric health record) giant that is also prevalent in Western New York, aiming to control the largest warehouse for digital patient data. It aims to become the main route for patients, health insurance companies, and health providers to communicate with each other. Walmart's CEO said healthcare was its fastest growing business line of 2021 Q4.
Amazon already has the digital retail infrastructure and scale to amass the world's largest healthcare repository for medical records, telehealth, pharmacy orders, health supplies, and digital health device and tracker data. Now it is taking its pilot Amazon Care Telehealth platform live in 20 major U.S. cities where Amazon will dispatch physicians, nurses, and caregivers to customers' homes. Amazon is betting that Americans will prefer on-demand primary care services from the comforts of their own homes, together with same day or next day home deliveries of their needed pharmacy and health supplies.
In terms of commerce dollars, the largest prize to be won in this contest to deliver healthcare is the pharmacy sales, a $300 billion per year jackpot. Amazon and Walmart are joined by Walgreens and CVS in taking aim at pharmacy retail by promising digital streamlining and saving money.
Since the majority of pharmacy costs in the U.S. are covered by health insurers, it remains to be seen whether consumers will see higher quality, wider formularies, and better products at lower prices, or whether generics and other cheaper substitutes will replace higher end drugs in these models.
Health providers and those who follow population health goals say it is too early to tell whether the new retail health delivery models will result in improved health for Americans.
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"The celebrity cage match featuring Amazon and Walmart is carrying over into healthcare big time as the two retail rivals push further into health technologies, pharmacy and treatment."