Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) will open its first in-store medical clinics under its own brand name after leasing space in dozens of stores to outside companies that operate the quick-service health stops.
The world's largest retailer said Thursday it will open "The Clinic at Wal-Mart" as a joint venture with local hospital systems in Atlanta, Dallas and Little Rock, Ark., starting in April.
Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart is among several U.S. supermarket and drug store chains that in the past couple of years have begun opening store-based health clinics, which are staffed mostly by nurse practitioners or physician assistants and offer quick service for routine conditions from colds and bladder infections to sunburn.
About 7 percent of Americans have tried a clinic at least once, according to an estimate by the Convenient Care Association, an industry trade group formed in 2006.
That number is expected to increase dramatically, as chains like Wal-Mart, CVS Corp. (NYSE: CVS), Target Corp. (NYSE: TGT) and Walgreen Co. (NYSE: WAG) partner with mini-clinic providers like RediClinic and MinuteClinic to expand operations. The trade group estimates there will be more than 1,500 by year-end, up from about 800 in November.
Wal-Mart has clinics in 77 stores, including nine in Wisconsin and Florida operated by local hospitals. Clinics in 23 locations in Florida and three other Southern states have been in limbo since last month when New York-based CheckUps shut down.
Now Wal-Mart has signed a letter of intent to work with local hospital systems and RediClinic to open cobranded walk-in clinics in 200 Wal-Mart Supercenters.
Wal-Mart has also signed a letter of intent to partner directly with St. Vincent Health System, a part of the Catholic Healthcare Initiatives system, to open four cobranded clinics in Little Rock.
Co-branding means the clinics will jointly bear the names of Wal-Mart and its partners and have an identical look, prices and record keeping system, Wal-Mart spokeswoman Deisha Galberth said.
Having the local hospital system involved will also increase the level of trust among shoppers, Galberth said.
Wal-Mart said this is the first step toward opening 400 cobranded clinics by 2010.
Retail analyst Patricia Edwards of San Francisco-based Wentworth Hauser and Violich said the move benefits Wal-Mart by giving the clinics added credibility.
"Especially among middle- and upper-income shoppers, it becomes more like stopping in at any location of their group health care provider. It doesn't have that connotation of going cheap," Edwards said.
Edwards said putting Wal-Mart's name on the clinics also fits with the retailer's drive for a public role in health care to counter union-led criticism that it skimps on employee health insurance.
Wal-Mart has introduced the clinics as well as $4 prescriptions for some generic medicines, and Chief Executive Lee Scott pledged last month to find other ways to help cut health care costs, including promoting the use of electronic health records instead of paper files.