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story.lead_photo.caption A Walmart logo forms part of a sign outside a Walmart store, Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019, in Walpole, Mass. Walmart is going back to its folksy hunting heritage and getting rid of anything that's not related to a hunting rifle after two mass shootings in its stores in one week left 24 people dead in August of 2019. - Photo by AP Photo / Steven Senne

Walmart Inc.'s new medical clinic in an Atlanta suburb is "just the beginning" of its plans to make health care more affordable and accessible for its U.S. customers, the retailer's head of health and wellness said.

Residents of Dallas, Ga., along with analysts and reporters, got their first glimpse of the Walmart Health center when it opened Friday. The 10,000-square-foot clinic offers primary care, diagnostics, mental health counseling and dental, optical and hearing services. And though it's connected to a newly remodeled Supercenter, it has a separate entrance for patient privacy.

Low, transparent pricing will be a hallmark of the new health-care concept, a Walmart news release said. Customers will get an estimate of how much their visit will cost when they book their appointment.

Sean Slovenski, president of health and wellness for Walmart's U.S. division, gave some examples of the facility's prices in a blog post. A child's annual checkup costs $20; lab tests start at $10; and an adult's dental cleaning including X-rays costs $25 -- all regardless of the patient's insurance coverage.

Slovenski said the health center is the first to provide these diverse services in one facility.

"For the past year, a team of health-care experts and visionaries inside and outside of Walmart have been working hard to bring this concept to life in Georgia," Slovenski said, "and the journey we've been on is just the beginning as we aim to bring quality, accessible health care to our customers."

The new clinic will serve as a pilot to test the concept before expanding it to other communities, Slovenski said. However, a second facility is already scheduled to open early next year in Calhoun, Ga.

Walmart currently has 19 in-store "Care Clinics" in Georgia, South Carolina and Texas. However, these are much smaller than the Walmart Health center -- about 1,500 square feet -- and offer fewer services. Also, Walmart Care Clinics are staffed by certified nurse practitioners, while Walmart Health will have physicians on staff as well as other medical professionals.

Walmart's venture comes at a time when other retailers are expanding in-store health services. Both CVS Health and Walgreens Boots Alliance are exploring different models for offering primary medical care. But Walmart, with more than 4,700 U.S. stores, greatly exceeds their reach.

Wall Street analysts reacted favorably in notes released Monday. Christopher Mandeville with Jefferies & Co. wrote that the new health center concept will enhance the relationship between Walmart and U.S. families. He also said the Walmart Health center will have between 80 and 100 employees.

Dr. Joe Thompson, president and chief executive officer of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement in Little Rock, said in an interview Monday that with 18% of the U.S. gross domestic product going toward health-care expenditures, he's not surprised that Walmart "is looking at what role it can play in that segment of our economy."

Thompson noted, though, that the low cost of Walmart Health's services, as well as its seven-day-a-week availability, will make it attractive to many people, particularly the uninsured. "It may push the health insurance industry and clinical-care delivery systems to do something different" in their own business models, he said.

"I think this is another step in an evolving health-care system that's striving to meet the needs of our citizens at a cost we can afford," Thompson said. "We'll see whether it's a successful venture. I'm sure the outcome will be self-evident."

Business on 09/17/2019

Print Headline: Walmart opens new medical clinic

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