Wal-Mart as healthcare destination

About a year ago I suggested, half tongue-in-cheek, that Wal-Mart might want to go into the business of providing healthcare services. The idea remains intriguing to me, particularly as Wal-Mart ramps up its retail clinics and cheap meds initiative.

As you probably know (if you haven't been under a rock for a year or two), Wal-Mart has rolled out a program under which it offers hundreds of commonly-used generic drugs for a flat $4 per prescription. The program has sparked copycat programs from rival retailers, generated a lot of talk and probably saved some patients some bucks. This week, it's extending the program to cover new types of drugs (such as an ADHD med), and what's more, has established a $9 tier which will allow it to broaden its offerings.

To me, this has implications well beyond the retail pharmacy sector. Not only will such moves continue to push business into the Wal-Mart pharmacies, they could indirectly support the retail clinic businesses emerging in its stores over the next few years. With price-conscious consumers already hitting the stores for retail healthcare, getting cheap medication makes a lot of sense.

What I'm getting at, here, is that offering cheap meds is likely to be followed by other strategies that cement Wal-Mart's position as an outpatient healthcare destination, such as clinical testing. Future enhancements could even include non-retail activities--probably, in partnership with local hospitals--such as community healthcare education programs or blood pressure screenings.

I admit I could be reading this all wrong, and that all Wal-Mart cares about is to generate more transactions for its core retail businesses. But when you consider that it's planning to launch 2,000 retail clinics in coming years, maybe the idea of Wal-Mart as provider isn't such a wacky notion. Sure, Wal-Mart has no experience offering healthcare services today, but somehow, I doubt that will stop 'em. - Anne