Walmart to Close All 51 Health Clinics, End Virtual Care Services

Walmart, the largest retailer in the United States, announced on Tuesday that it will close all 51 of its healthcare centers located in six states and end its virtual healthcare services. The company had made a significant push into health care recently, opening clinics next to its superstores in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, and Texas. These clinics offered primary and urgent care, labs, X-rays, behavioral health, and dental work to provide convenient, low-cost services to patients in rural and underserved areas that lacked primary care options.

Walmart's Health Care Push and Challenges

Walmart opened clinics to try to fill a gap for its customers without health insurance and people with insurance plans with high deductibles and out-of-pocket costs. The company chose some of its locations because the areas had higher rates of chronic disease and fewer primary care physicians than average US communities. However, Walmart faced several challenges with its health clinics, including a shortage of medical workers and difficulties in translating its retail strength into the healthcare sector.

Marcus Osborne, Walmart’s former vice president of health and wellness transformation, told CNN in 2020 that people who came into the clinics often had not seen a primary care physician in two or three years or a dentist in five years. Despite the initial optimism, Walmart determined that there was no sustainable business model for them to continue operating the healthcare centers due to the challenging reimbursement environment and escalating operating costs.

The closures may leave a gap in healthcare access, particularly for lower-income patients without insurance who relied on the centers. Walmart’s decision also highlights the challenges faced by primary care providers in the United States, with a shortage of up to 55,000 primary care physicians expected in the next decade, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Impact on Patients, Associates, and Communities

The closure of the Walmart Health centers and the end of virtual care services will impact the lives of patients who receive care, the associates and providers who deliver care, and the communities that supported the initiative. Walmart has stated that its priority is to ensure a smooth transition for all those affected, providing respect, compassion, and support throughout the closing process.

Patients with scheduled appointments will continue to be seen, and Walmart will try to direct patients to high-quality providers in their insurance networks to ensure they continue receiving care. Associates will be eligible to transfer to other Walmart or Sam’s Club locations and receive pay for 90 days, with eligible associates receiving severance benefits if they do not transfer or leave the company after that period.

About half the Walmart Health clinics were located in Florida, and last fall Walmart announced a partnership with Orlando Health, a private, not-for-profit network of community and specialty hospitals. That effort, too, is winding down, CNBC reported.

Future Plans and Continuing Services

Despite the closures, Walmart will continue to operate its 4,600 pharmacies and more than 3,000 optical centers nationwide. The company plans to take what it has learned from the healthcare centers and provide health and wellness services through these existing facilities. Walmart also intends to launch new services, such as the Walmart Healthcare Research Institute and health programs, to complement its fresh food and over-the-counter offerings.

Walmart pharmacies and vision centers will not be affected by the closures. The company stated that over the past few years, the importance of pharmacies has continued to grow, and they have expanded the clinical capabilities of the services they provide. Walmart plans to continue offering immunizations, testing, and treatment services, access to specialty pharmacy medication and care, as well as other essential services such as medication therapy management and various health screenings.

Challenges and the Way Forward

The closure of Walmart’s healthcare centers and the end of its virtual care services mark a swift reversal of the company’s strategy in the healthcare sector. While the decision was driven by financial considerations, it highlights the challenges nontraditional providers face in offering health care services. Patients, associates, and communities will feel the impact of the closures, but Walmart has pledged to support those affected during the transition process.

Moving forward, the company will focus on providing health and wellness services through its existing pharmacies and vision centers while exploring new initiatives to complement its offerings in the retail sector.